Widespread lead poisoning found in bald eagles

Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | February 17, 2022

New research from across the U.S. found many bald and golden eagles have lead poisoning.

The study examined 1,200 eagles from Alaska to Florida and found 46 percent of bald eagles and 47 percent of golden eagles had chronic lead poisoning. The eagles tested reside in 38 different states. According to the research, they are continually exposed to toxic heavy metals throughout their life spans.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Raptor Coordinator Brian Millsap coauthored the study. He said the research shows that “lead reduces the rate of population growth for both of these protected species.” While bald eagles were taken off the endangered species list in 2007 according to NBC News, Millsap said the golden eagle’s population is not as stable. He said the population could tip into overall decline due to the lead exposure.

The study is the first of its kind. Todd Katzner, a supervisory research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the study’s lead author, said the study illuminates how the lead in the environment can negatively impact eagles within the continent. The eight-year research project found lead can have lethal effects on the birds at a population level. The study suggests the exposure could impact the growth of both eagle species’ population moving forward.

Scientists believe lead can be entering the birds’ bodies via their food consumptions. The concentrations of lead spiked in the winter months, when it is harder for birds to find meals and eagles start to scavenge for meals for longer.

The lead exposure also leads to a reduced growth in bald eagles by nearly four percent.

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