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Lead poisoning affects nearly half of the US bald Eagles

According to a Thursday study, nearly half of the bald eagles in America are suffering from chronic lead exposure.

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Lead poisoning affects nearly half of the US bald Eagles

While the bald eagle population has rebounded from the brink of extinction since the U.S. banned the pesticide It's quite amazing that almost half of them are being repeatedly exposed to lead.

Lead, a neurotoxin, can cause seizures in eagles, even at low doses, and impair their balance and stamina. This reduces their ability to fly, hunt, and reproduce. High doses of lead can cause seizures, breathing difficulties, and even death.

According to the study, lead exposure had a significant impact on the annual growth in population of bald and golden eagles.

The American Bald Eagles are a well-known conservation success story. They were removed form the U.S. Endangered Species in 2007.

Scientists warn that high levels of lead are still a concern. Lead exposure not only reduces eagle population growth but also decreases their ability to face future challenges such as climate change and infectious diseases.

"When we talk of recovery, it is not really the end of this story -- there are still threats bald eagles," stated Krysten Schuler (a Cornell University wildlife disease ecologist, College of Veterinary Medicine), who was not part of the study.

Previous studies have shown that lead exposure is high in certain areas, but not all over the country. The new study used blood samples taken from live eagles. These samples were collected from birds that had been trapped.

Vince Slabe (a conservation wildlife biologist at Conservation Science Global) said that lead is more prevalent on the landscape than previously believed. A lead fragment as small as a pin's end can cause death in an eagle. "

Researchers also discovered elevated levels of lead exposure during fall and winter, which coincided with hunting season in many States.

These months are when eagles hunt for carcasses and gut piles left behind by hunters. They often contain shards or bullet fragments.

Slabe stated that the end result of the research was not meant to denigrate hunters. He said that hunters are one of the most important conservation groups in the country, noting that taxes and fees paid by hunters help pay for state wildlife agencies. He also mentioned that he hunted deer in Montana and elk there.

Slabe stated that he hopes that the findings will allow him to "talk with hunters about this matter in a clear way" and that more hunters will switch to non-lead ammunition like copper bullets.

In 1991, lead ammunition was prohibited for waterfowl hunting. This was due to concerns over contamination of waterways. Wildlife authorities recommended the use nontoxic shot. Lead ammunition is still used for big game hunting and upland bird hunting.

According to the study, lead exposure is highly variable by region, with the highest levels in the Central Flyway.

Victoria Hall, executive director of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, stated that 85 to 90% of the eagles who come into the hospital have some lead in their blood. X-rays also show small pieces of lead in their stomachs.

She said that eagles with low exposure levels can be treated but not those with high exposure.

Laura Hale is the board president of Badger Run Wildlife Rehab, a nonprofit in Klamath County. She said that she will never forget the first eagle she saw with acute lead poisoning in 2018. She answered a call from a resident about an eagle in the underbrush that appeared immobile and brought it to clinic.

The blanket wrapped the young bald eagle in, making it impossible for him to breathe and even stand.

She said, shaking her voice, "There is something horrible when an eagle struggles to breathe due to lead poisoning - that's really, really cruel." The eagle suffered convulsions and eventually died within 48 hours.

Jennifer Cedarleaf is the avian director of Alaska Raptor Center. This non-profit wildlife rescue in Sitka (Alaska) affects lead on the landscape.

She said that bald eagles, which are sensitive to lead and are well-studied, are "like the canary in a coal mine," because they are so popular. They are the species that tell us: We have a little problem.


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