Golden Eagle suffering from lead poisoning. (Note scars on toes from walking on its knuckels.) As if shootings, electrocution and collisions with vehicles are not enough for eagles to cope with, now portentous lead poisoning has reared its ugly head.
Lead is a toxic metal deposited in the environment through hunting, fishing and recreational shooting, and will not break down into less-toxic compounds and will persist indefinitely. Lead toxicity can have lethal consequences that compromise avian survival and reproductive success. Consequently, lead has killed a variety of birds, and it won't be too long before it will travel through the food chain and seep into the human body.
Behavioral changes, such as loss of escape response
* Paralysis of the esophagus, gizzard, legs, or wings
* Vomiting & diarrhea
* Lack of muscle control
* Convulsions, anemia and emaciation (starvation/muscle wasting)
I might add that these symptoms are similar to lead poisoning in people, sans gizzard and wings...
Gary Landers, operator of a raptor rehabilitation facility near Sisters has seen lead-contaminated eagles die, while he and Dr. Little Liedblad of Broken Top Veterinarian Clinic have treated others successfully.
Lynn Tompkins operates a raptor rehab facility in Pendleton and has received more eagles with a higher concentration of lead than Lander's operation. Tompkins believes the source of elevated lead she is finding in both bald and golden eagles is from coyotes killed in the Columbia River plateau.
Tompkins says, "They (cattle and sheep ranchers) recently finished lambing and are calving now. They shoot a lot of coyotes during the fall and winter. (Biologist) Nick Myatt, Baker City ODFW, mentioned that several hundred coyotes are shot each year in the area. I'm beginning to think that is a significant source of lead."
When a lead projectile (bullet) rips into animal tissue, it fragments immediately, sending tiny slivers of lead into muscle and other tissue. If it hits bone, it will essentially explode, sending fragments of lead throughout the proximity of the wound. Even if a lead bullet travels through an animal, it will leave a lead lining on the hole - the first place a scavenger will go to eat. There's enough lead at that location to contaminate a full-grown eagle, and be life-threatening to a smaller raptor.
While lead shot is illegal for use in waterfowl hunting, all too many upland game bird hunters and other shooters continue to use it. So-called, "varmint hunters," who shoot ground squirrels with a variety of weapons, leave thousands of lead-contaminated carcasses behind.
Tompkins said last week regarding a golden eagle she recently picked up, "We received the final lab report today. Lead level is 82 mcg/dl...the highest level we have documented to date. So far the bird is stable. We started chelation (treatment for lead poisoning) Monday eve."
Tompkins spent seven months treating a lead-contaminated adult bald eagle. One year after release, an ODFW wildlife biologist found it shot near John Day.
Then there's the lead sinkers that anglers' use in the Columbia, Snake and other Northwest rivers and lakes. Swans and mallard ducks feed on bottom vegetation where they scoop up sand and gravel to aid gizzard action in grinding up food. Lead among the bottom gravel is ingested and added to the grinding process and subsequently carried throughout the bird's body. When contaminated waterfowl die, eagles, hawks, other carrion-eaters feed on them, and the lead calamity goes on.
In Wisconsin, poisoning from lead sinkers and jigs used in sport fishing is a significant source of adult common loon mortality.
Lead poisoning is also a significant mortality factor in Trumpeter Swans. Of 110 Trumpeter Swan carcasses submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for post-mortem examination between 1991 and 2004, 31 percent died from lead poisoning.
Condors will never be safe or be reintroduced in the Northwest until lead is eliminated in the environment.
One ray of hope is the Barnes Bullet, a 100 percent copper projectile that, if used by shooters, could reduce lead significantly.
You can also:
* Retrieve all killed animals (including coyotes and small game) and bury them*
* Bury game animal gut piles, cover them with brush or rocks, or place them in inaccessible areas*
* Remove bullets and surrounding impacted flesh and bury it*
* Use lead-free ammunition, in which case none of the above is needed.
* It will be necessary to cover the buried offal with at least 12 inches of soil and rocks to keep methane gas from the atmosphere, attracting turkey vultures and other carrion-eaters.
If you hunt, or shoot, PLEASE use non-lead ammunition for the sake of eagles, condors and all wildlife potentially ingesting lead fragments left behind in the field. Even more importantly, when you bring home those ducks and geese from Summer Lake, or an elk from the Ochocos, think about the lead YOU are ingesting.