Lead isn’t only dangerous to humans…
A sick American Bald Eagle was found in a field in North Carolina. The ground was wet and muddy and it was obvious the bird was not doing well.
It was discovered that the raptor had lead poisoning. Lou Browning, the wildlife rehabilitation specialist who received the bird, suspected the lead poisoning came from eating prey or animal remains tainted with lead. The bird was treated using chelation therapy- a chemical process in which a synthetic solution is injected into the bloodstream to remove heavy metals and/or minerals from the body.
X-Rays revealed the eagle had 13 to 14 lead fragments in its stomach and intestinal tract. The fragments in its intestines were naturally passed. However, the fragments in its stomach had to be physically removed. A common procedure for raptors to achieve this is to feed it a squirrel skin because the bird cannot digest it. The lead fragments get embedded into the squirrel skin, and the bird then regurgitates it, lead and all.
According to Browning, there are three ways birds of prey accidentally ingest lead.
- One: A bird eats waterfowl that has consumed lead.
While it’s been illegal in the United States for hunters to shoot waterfowl using lead shots since 1991, lead remains at the bottom of ponds for years. Waterfowl will unknowingly eat the lead pellets while feeding. The eagle then eats the waterfowl and the lead is absorbed into the eagle.
- Two: A bird eats the remains of animals that had lead in their body.
When a bullet strikes an animal, it fragments and small lead pieces are scattered around the area. If the carcass is left behind, an eagle runs the risk of ingesting the lead within the carcass and the surrounding lead.
A Hunting Tip: To help prevent this ingestion, bury the animal remains.
- Three: A bird eats a fish that has swallowed lead.
A fish can swallow lead items such as a fisherman’s sinker.
Thanks to Browning and the other specialists, the bird is now doing much better, and its blood-lead levels have decreased.