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Lead poisoning found in nearly half of all US bald eagles

Bald Eagle in Juneau, USA. Photo by Sue Tucker on Unsplash 


By Patryk Krych | The World Daily | FEBRUARY 19th 2022 


According to a recent study published on Thursday, nearly half of all the bald and golden eagles in the United States are suffering from lead poisoning, causing a possible threat to their population growth.

The bald and golden eagles are some of the most iconic in all of the United States, often symbolising the country and its successes. But a large number of this famous species is said to be suffering from lead poisoning, according to the research, which tested well over 1,200 eagles from 38 different states ranging from Alaska to Florida.

The study had been published on Thursday in the journal Science, and described how it analysed the birds by inspecting their feathers, bones, blood and livers for signs of the toxic substance. It was found that at least 46% of the bald eagles, as well as 47% of the golden eagles, all suffered from lead poisoning.

“When you look at lead levels in bone, these birds are getting exposed repeatedly to lead over their lives,” said the study’s principal investigator and supervisory research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Todd Katzner. “It’s happening again and again.” 

Lead can be deadly to all kinds of birds, eagles included. In terms of the bald eagles, it could signal a stunting in their continued population growth. The resurgence of the American bald eagles is considered one of the greatest and most successful conservation efforts in the history of the US, having been removed from the US endangered species list in 2007. But all this progress may yet be proven to have been for naught.

The consequences may be far more dire for the golden eagles, whose populations, unlike the bald eagle, had not been on the rise.

“This is the first time for any wildlife species that we’ve been able to evaluate lead exposure and population level consequences at a continental scale,” added Katzner. “It’s sort of stunning that nearly 50% of them are getting repeatedly exposed to lead.”

The study suggests that the primary source of the poisoning can be traced to the eagles scavenging meat from animals that had been shot by hunters, using lead bullets. 


Katzner added: “This is the first study of lead poisoning of wildlife at a nationwide scale, and it demonstrates the unseen challenges facing these birds of prey. We now know more about how lead in our environment is negatively impacting North America's eagles.”

The study was also a major step in revealing more about how lead pollution can affect both wildlife and environment in past and future contaminations. Despite having been recognised as a toxic substance even back when the Romans made use of it, it saw continued use throughout the centuries and was only banned as a fuel additive in the year 2000.

Once it’s in the environment, it won’t degrade or disappear for decades to come, meaning that lead contamination from as far back as the 80s could still persist and cause problems today. In terms of affecting wildlife, such as eagles, it’s been proven to cause such problems as weight loss, reduced chick growth, blindness, and noticeable alterations in their natural behavioural patterns.

“Studies have shown lethal effects to individual birds, but this new study is the first to show population-level consequences from lead poisoning to these majestic species at such a wide scale,” said associate director for ecosystems at the United States Geological Survey which assisted in the carrying out of the research, Anne Kinsinger. 


By Patryk Krych | © The World Daily 2022 

Source: The Guardian, NBC News, National History Museum News