Bald Eagles Dying Of Lead Poisoning

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — On a frozen Washington County field partially covered in snow, bald eagle number 11-694 was found motionless and barely breathing.

The landowner placed it in a box and brought it to Carlos Avery Wildlife Area where the mature eagle was quickly taken to the Gabbert Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.

“This was an acute lead poisoning. This bird didn’t live more than a few days after it ingested this poison,” said Dr. Pat Redig, co-founder of the Raptor Center.

For the 29th time in 2011, Redig and veterinary staff at the Raptor Center would try in vain to save the sickened symbol of our nation’s freedom. In the more than 40 years that the specialty veterinary clinic has been tending to sick and injured raptors, roughly 25 percent of the bald eagles that enter are suffering from lead poisoning.

Showing up as little white dots in the X-ray images of the bird’s body, the tiny lead fragments ingested by 11-694 were simply too toxic for the eagle to recover. In fact, of the 29 bald eagles admitted last year, only one survived the lead poisoning to be released back into the wild.

It is a sobering and sad outcome for the birds that are unintentionally ingesting the lead contaminating the carcasses of waterfowl, varmints and wild game shot by hunters.

Since October 24, 2011, 13 bald eagles were taken to the Raptor Center, each one suffering the effects of lead poisoning. With little or no snow cover to conceal the gut piles of field dressed deer, eagles can feed freely on the remains. It’s within those remains where the tiny lead fragments contaminate the soon to be ingested food. Certainly unintended and without thought, a hunter’s spend bullet can cause a second death.

Carrol Henderson is the Department of Natural Resources’ non-game wildlife expert.

“This year, because of our ironically mild winter and late fall, the eagles are continuing to feed on a deer’s gut pile and getting poisoned by shards of lead,” said Henderson.

Henderson hopes that the DNR and Raptor Center can help educate hunters about a better choice of ammunition. He points out that just as lead was banned from paint and gasoline to protect human health, the same protection is due our nation’s symbol.

Bullet manufacturers including Federal Cartridge, Remington, Winchester and Hornady, already offer non-toxic alternatives to lead shells. The tradeoff is cost. Expect to pay half to twice as much for the non-toxic shells.

“It’s not a matter of anti-hunting, it’s a matter of smart hunting,” added Henderson.

More from Bill Hudson
  • Brett

    TOTAL RUBBISH. I have heard this rant from the “Raptor Center”, I was DOWN THERE to hear it in person. Here’s the deal….. In the southern part of the state, where HIGH-powered rifles aren’t allow to shoot deer, you have shotgun slugs being used. A big piece of lead, without a copper jacket, and guess what, you have a slug fragmenting upon impact on a deer. What they also don’t tell you is that because there are now SO MANY EAGLES around, that some are bound to ingest such toxic fragments, which tells us that their populations have improved considerably. How about some COMMON SENSE HERE?? How about shotgun slugs having copper jackets, which would minimize the fragmenting of a lead shotgun slug?? NOPE, the researchers would NEVER consider THAT OPTION. I don’t want to see any eagles die unnecessarily, but how about a COMMON SENSE approach?? Doesn’t appear to be coming from those eagle researchers. All I see is DOOM and GLOOM, camoflauged by some kind of twisted patriotic illogic. The fact is, the more of these eagles that are around, the bigger the chance that they will die an unnatural death.

    • Citizen

      Brett-Your right, common sense is the best approach. Most of the 10 deer that I’ve harvested in the past two years I used a “string and stick”, so lead poising is not an issue. But the deer that I did get with a rifle, I buried their gut pile. Once again, common sense. It takes less than 5 minutes to dig a small hole and burry the gut pile, and the bleeding hearts have one less thing to gripe about hunting. I know, I’m going to have a ton of replies telling me how much of an inconvenience it would be to carry a shovel with them in the woods. Rubbish, most (not all) deer these days are removed from the woods by ATV, 4-wheel drive vehicle, some kind of a deer cart, or sled. All of which could easily carry a small shovel. (Okay, maybe if your hunting late Nov. or Dec. the ground is frozen . . . I’ll concede that one.)

    • Roger

      Hey Brett…..just shut up!

      • Brett

        Hey Roger, unless you have something useful to contribute, why don’t YOU JUST SHUT UP?

        • Huck

          Settle down Brett.

    • Crystal

      Obviously, nor do you. I like Rachel’s challenge regarding your cereal supplement. Relating lead existing in the environment with putting a deadly toxin into food items eagles will eat and leaving it out there for them whether through field dressings or shot but not dropped and recovered deer doesn’t hold water. But, if you’re that sure of yourself, then give it ago. Or, maybe you already have and that is why you seem to be a conspiracy theory NUT.

    • Crystal

      It’s not just Minn. We get bald eagles with lead poisoning in PA and NY. It’s happening all over. You may have “so many eagles” that you consider them expendable. I wouldn’t say we do. You’re right, using ammo that would be non-toxic is a common sense approach. As I understand it, such ammo is already available, but needs to be used in place of lead.

  • Jerry

    I’ll try again later when the censor is out to lunch.

  • John W. Noraas

    Article says the raptors are ingesting lead from waterfowl…seeing as how lead hasnt been used since the the 1970’s kind of makes you wonder what their agenda really is. Furthermore the whole lead fragments in game remains has been shown false the trace amounts are smaller then those found naturally occuring in nature. Very sad that WCCO didnt bother to background this story a bit more.

    • mary canaday-gray

      no where in the article or video does it say eagles are ingesting lead from waterfowl….what article are you reading???

      • mary canaday-gray

        I take that back…just reread it again..obviously that is wrong unless hunters are using illegal ammo for duck hunting, which somehow based on what I am reading here doesn’t surprise me!!

    • Brett

      Exactly, but the people down at Wabasha are trying to make it sound like it is the deer hunters who are at FAULT. I have been down there and heard it with my own ears, so don’t say that I am getting some kind of ‘second hand’ information.

    • Crystal

      Lead shot aimed at waterfowl that missed its intended target years ago is still in the environment and still gets ingested by bottom feeding ducks who are scavenged upon. Although it may not be the problem that it was before it was banned, it in no way discounts the current poisoning problem caused by lead in big game and upland game hunting. Then there’s the avid hunter I was speaking with recently who told me they use lead shot for duck hunting. When I informed them that it was banned decades ago, they told me that they didn’t know that and that it didn’t matter becasue he would continue to do so, it’s cheaper. Very said that some hunters can reflect so poorly on other hunters and make the public wonder about the agenda of hunters’ hesitation to stop using lead.

  • Barely Breathing

    How stupid are these birds? Just don’t eat the lead…it is that simple!

  • Andrea Niemi

    Thanks so much for alerting the public to this very big threat to our eagles and other wildlife. The comments above are ill-informed. The videos of dying eagles are heartbreaking. Most recently an eagle in Iowa died before it could be treated and a necropsy showed a lead level of 48 ppm when over 6 ppm indicates definite lead poisoning. We got rid of DDT, we need to get rid of lead shot and sinkers!

  • Bill

    Andrea lead shot has been banned for decades and lead sinkers usually end up in the bottom of a lake or river far out of reach of the eagles and in case you didn’t know it lead is a natural element found in the soil. don’t believe everything these enviromentalists print

    • Rachel

      Lead shot has been banned for waterfowl but not anywhere else. Lead sinkers still end up within the reach of birds like Trumpeter Swans which will feed off the bottoms of marshes. Your argument about lead being a natural element/therefore it’s safe is really a poor one. There are plenty of examples of naturally occuring elements which are extremely toxic or lethal when ingested, especially in the un-naturally occuring concentrations that we make them (lead slugs). If you think lead in the form of slugs/sinkers/paint/sodder is a totally innocuous substance, why not pop a few lead paint chips every day with your breakfast and see what happens? Oh wait, those might be hard to find since scientists and doctors decided they were very bad for our health. Might I suggest then taking a knife and shaving off bits of a sinker the sprinkle on your cereal? It will take a lot longer for you to get sick/become mentally ill because our digestive tracts will pass the lead fragments a lot easier that a bird’s will. Also, our stomachs are not as acidic as a bird’s, thus the lead will not break down and be absorbed as rapidly.

  • Bill

    This is the same thing they were saying back in the seventies almost word for word. There is a big push to outlaw all lead projectiles by the Anti -Gun NUTS and this is part of their plan. Trying to get those that know little or nothing about firearms to support there agenda no matter how much they lie. They don’t care what the facts are.

    • Crystal

      Obviously, nor do you. I like Rachel’s analogy about your cereal supplements. Relating lead occuring naturally in the environement to putting a deadly toxin into a known food item for eagles and leaving it out there for them in field dressings or deer that were shot and not dropped immediatley and therefore never recovered does not hold water. But, if you’re that sure of yourself, give it ago; unless, of course you already have and the resulting brain damage explains your Conspiracy Theory NUT comments that ignore the facts.

  • outlaw

    What the firearms dealers don’t care enough to develop a cheaper alternitive then lead ?? OR they don’t want to and they call themselves “Sportsmen”

    • Jim Neal

      Dealers sell ammunition…ammunition companies develop various loads. There ARE non-lead bullets. Curious, how’s the white xray specks in the bird around the breast? They should be in the digestive tract, mainly the gizzard. Hmmm, I on the hoax side.

      • Pam

        Jim, it was explained in the video how the lead ended up in the chest area. Because the bird was sick, it regurgitated, sending lead fragments up into it’s crop.

  • Paloma

    Lead is a heavy metal so I think it builds up in the system, which is part of the problem. Eagles look like they’re heavy birds but they only weigh between 10 and 14 pounds so it probably doesn’t take much to get this to a toxic level. The argument for saving eagles is about more than the fact that they are our national symbol, though that is the low hanging fruit to get people to watch, so that is what is used. (Ratings!) These are top tier raptors and as such they provide an invaluable service with keeping balance in nature. These birds are not just scavengers. They are prolific fishers and hunters, seeking out high protein diets – which is what takes them to a gut pile. We don’t know how many nesting pairs existed before we started killing them via DDT, which effected much more than just eagles, but estimates put them at around 50,000 pair. We currently have a couple thousand nesting pair in Minnesota, which mostly disperse and head for better hunting during the winter. Their populations are increasing after 40+ years of effort, and they were delisted as Endangered some short years ago, but their populations are still at risk and numbers could plummet rapidly. While this is a really sad story; awful to watch, eagle numbers across this country are facing a new threat that will kill them in greater numbers by outright striking them from the sky, fragmenting their nesting/hunting/foraging habitat, and causing disturbances to nesting grounds so the birds cannot lay or hatch eggs. The current AWA Goodhue wind energy project in SE Minnesota proposes to build in the midst of a cluster of active bald eagle nests. Their mitigation strategies include all things illegal according to the USFWS, because the greed outweighs behaving in a responsible and respectful manner and only siting as many LWECS as can properly “fit” in this area without starving, harassing or killing the bald eagles to make the landscape suitable. People seem to think that hunters do not care for animals, which is what allows them to hunt. Not true. I think most hunters would be upset by this story. What is really despicable is that wind energy developers like those associated with billionaire T. Boone Pickens and AWA Goodhue KNOW that they will be decimating eagle and bat populations but they could care less.

    I agree with Brett in that we need to look at other ammunition options for hunters if this has been identified as a cause of death in raptors. That seems like a common sense approach to the problem.

    Some birds eat rocks to help them break down food for digestion. I don’t know if eagles are the same, but it wouldn’t surprise me. They are not the only wild birds that die from lead poisoning: Trumpeter Swans share this fate with them.

  • Andrea Niemi

    For those of you who don’t care about the impact of lead on wildlife, perhaps you would like to worry about the impact it is having on the people who are eating the game themselves. See this article:

  • Ahhhhh

    OH NOOO it’s Silent Spring all over again. We’re all going to die.

  • Ahhhhh

    OH NOOO it’s Silent Spring all over again. We’re all going to die.

  • JS

    Why do the comments on sites like this often sound like Homer Simpson?

  • phaines

    The anti-lead ammo movement is not an anti-hunting/fishing movement. We who want lead ammo banned recognize the important role hunting and fishing play in supporting wildlife management. What we oppose is the addition of toxic lead to what is already naturally-occurring in the environment. Lead doesn’t go away. It is deadly and kills babies and Bald Eagles alike. There is a wealth of science to support this position. The NRA has the money, we have the science. Many take the position that eagle populations are increasing which seems to suggest that we have enough eagles, so why worry? We worry because we may reach the tipping point very soon without realizing it and have to start all over as we did with the DDT problem. This is so easily preventable. Eagles die off from starvation and loss of habitat and just plain old weather-related incidents in huge numbers, especially the “juvies” between their fledge and adulthood at approx 4-5 years. The researchers can’t count all of the casualties because they don’t know enough about juvie behaviors to track them during this period of their lives. Also their plumage is somewhat of a camouflage and you may have noticed most pictures of lead poisoned eagles are adults with full white plumage on heads and tails. We fear many more are dying without anyone knowing about it and that eagle populations will dwindle as a a result of these eagles not making it to maturity to breed. Estimates have put the mortality rate the first year after fledging at 50% and of those surviving, only 20% are estimated to make it to adulthood and breeding. Raptor rehab centers are reporting higher than usual numbers of poisoned birds being brought in this fall. Some are surviving, many are not. Can’t we give them and ourselves a break and get rid of the toxins while we still can? Can’t we stop contaminating the soil and water and maybe leave something for the future that doesn’t require a massive cleanup? I am not going to suggest that anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights should be ditched. Hunt if you want, fish if you wish. But please do it without leaded equipment and ammo. If you can quit smoking, surely you can give up lead ammo!

    • Citizen

      String and stick . . . as far as I know . . . there isn’t a broadhead out there with lead in it.

      • cosbyboy

        bowhunters rock!

  • Kay Neumann

    Wildlife rehabilitation data is like human emergency room data. It is the percentage of animals with lead in their systems that is alarming. If 25% of the people admitted to an emergency room had a poison in their body, won’t the doctors be sounding an alarm, trying to eliminate the source. As Coopers Hawk numbers have increased, rehabilitators have been seeing more of them – but with an assortment of problems, fractures, starvation, orphans, concussions, etc. Not one overwhelming cause for admission. Lead poisoining is preventable. Hunters are stepping up. A recent survey in Iowa showed 57% of upland bird hunters were chosing to use non toxic shot and 38% of deer hunters surveyed were using copper slugs.

  • Chris

    Where are all the deer hunters who are shooting their deer in the guts? This reeks of anti hunting anti gun mis information.

    • cosbyboy

      Chris, I am going to respectfully suggest that you should do some research before accusing people of being misinformed. There is abundant science to support the position that lead poisoning is a real occurence that can be resolved by discontinuing the use of lead ammo and fishing tackle. I do not understand the defensive position you are taking. Please consider the possibility that you are not fully aware of that which you speak. Start with Google if you are really interested. And here’s a short slide show by the Wisconsin DNR narrated by a state environmental toxicologist:

      • Chris

        Generally speaking deer hunters don’t shoot deer in the guts. Do shotgun slugs break apart into fragments that are left in the gut pile of a field dressed deer? Do rifle bullets break into fragments when a deer is shot? How do lead fragments get into gut piles?
        I’m not questioning whether eagles are dying of lead poisoning; I’m sorry that is happening because I love to see them. I don’t understand how deer hunters are contributing.

        • Crystal

          They don’t have to shoot them in the gut. Yes, the shot can hit bone and break apart and travel around. Google “bald eagle, lead poison” and you can see pictures of deer that have been x rayed revealing shot spread aroung the body cavity. It takes a very small amount, relative to a grain of rice, to cause a fatal level of poison in an eagle. Besides field dressings, there are deer that are shot but get away and are not recovered, they eventually die and are scavenged upon so the shot doen’t even have to be in the gut.

  • Really

    Why don’t foxes, coyotes, crows and other carrion eaters die from lead poisoning? Sounds like BS (Rate it up there with Radon, Arsnic in green treated wood, second hand smoke, and even mercury).
    I think somone at the raptor center has a non-hunting agenda and WCCO is too lazy to do any sort of vetting on the subject.

    • cosbyboy

      Mammals have a different digestive system than birds do and the toxins pass thru more quickly. Many species of mammals do die of LP, tho, including fox, bear, coyotes, etc. Birds have a crop where food is stored until needed. When lead is ingested, it sits in the crop for a period of time, slowly leaching out into the neurosystem. As small an amount as a grain of rice is enough to kill an average sized adult eagle. i think you are a little bit defensive on this issue. This isn’t about your 2nd amendment rights. It is about a powerful neurotoxin that shouldn’t be available commercially especially for RECREATIONAL purposes. Your right to bear arms is not a right to pollute the environment.

  • Scott Funk

    Personally, I think this is damned embarrassing. Most of the hunters I’ve met know what they’re doing as regards the environment. The fact that lead is poisoning eagles should have been given to them long ago. Any rate, I wish the DNR would try to get the lead shells made illegal outright. The more damage is done to the environment the worse hunting will get over time, since everything is connected. How much you want to bet that other animals are also suffering because of lead bullets? Wonder where that lead is going after the deer guts are gone? See what I mean?

  • Rick

    In northern Arizona 90% of deer hunters voluntarily use non-lead bullets (solid copper) or carry gut-piles out of the field. They do so because AGFD have been offering education and incentives since 2005 to reduce lead poisoning in condors restored to the Grand Canyon area. Utah DNR recently started a similar program because condors also feed in southern Utah. This is a great example of hunters, agencies, and scientists working together for a shared goal…reducing unnecessary exposure of wildlife to a known toxin.

  • Myncextineeceyan
  • White Bald Eagle Pictures | Best Solutions For Hair Loss

    […] Bald Eagles Dying Of Lead Poisoning – In the more than 40 years that the specialty veterinary clinic has been tending to sick and injured raptors, roughly 25 percent of the bald eagles that enter are suffering from lead poisoning. Showing up as little white dots in the X-ray images of the bird … […]

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