Researchers meeting to discuss link between lead ammunition and dying bald eagles

Researchers found 168 dead bald eagles in the upper Mississippi area for a lead exposure study. (Contributed photo)
Researchers found 168 dead bald eagles in the upper Mississippi area for a lead exposure study. (Contributed photo)

Officials in the Upper Mississippi River U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge will meet today in Prairie du Chien, Wis., to discuss recent findings which link dying bald eagles and lead ammunition.

Beginning in 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists Ed Britton, Sarah Warner, Mike Coffey and Drew Becker collected dead bald eagles from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. After testing the livers of 168 dead birds, they found that 48 percent came back with detectable lead concentrations. 21 percent had lethal amounts of lead, indicating lead poisoning.

The lead most likely came from the carcasses of wild game left behind by hunters using lead ammunition. According to a fact sheet by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, eagles frequently scavenge deer and pheasant carcasses, many of which contain lead fragments left behind by hunters who cleaned the carcasses on-site and left behind gut piles which may contain lead fragments. High amounts of lead can be lethal, and non-lethal exposure can cause vision and respiratory problems, leading to secondary trauma.

Lead is currently the most popular material used in shotgun ammunition because it is dense, inexpensive, readily available and soft enough not to damage vintage gun barrels, a common problem with steel ammunition. Fortunately, companies in the hunting and shooting industry have already created several non-toxic alternatives, including Tungsten-Matrix, which has nearly the same density and softness as lead, key factors hunters look for when choosing ammunition.

The meeting today in Prairie du Chien is part of a series of information sessions being held in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Quad Cities over the course of two weeks. For more information on these meetings and the effects of lead on bald eagles, visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey counts thousands of bald eagles in Iowa

A Bald Eagle near Keokuk. Photo by Macomb Paynes, Flickr
A Bald Eagle near Keokuk. Photo by Macomb Paynes, Flickr

Wildlife workers and volunteers will have their eyes on the skies this weekend as they tally and report bald eagle sightings in Iowa and across the country.

The Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey counted over 3,000 bald eagles in Iowa last year. Stephanie Shepherd, a wildlife diversity biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the highest concentration of eagles is normally found along the Mississippi River, but populations shifted to the Des Moines River in 2010 and 2011, and then back to the Mississippi in 2012.

“The bald eagle is really a fascinating bird,” said Shepherd. “It gives us, a kind of hope, with its population recovery. It is a success story. It shows up now in places we never expected eagles to be. They are also a lot of fun to watch and listen to, with their social behavior in the winter.”

For more information, read the full press release by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Bald eagles making a comeback in Iowa City

Photo by Chris Capell, Flickr

The national bird, once-threatened with extinction, has been seen soaring over the Iowa River in the past couple months.

The Iowa-City Press Citizen released a story today highlighting the iconic bird’s return to Johnson County.  These birds have been appearing more commonly all across the state, a phenomenon that local bird enthusiasts are very happy about. 

Check out more of the Press-Citizen‘s coverage here.

Iowa City Bird Club President Karen Disbrow still remembers the first time she saw an eagle in Iowa City many years ago.

“I was so taken,” Disbrow said. “I never thought I’d have the opportunity.” Continue reading