Eagles Getting Sick On Food They Eat
By Magdalene Landegent
updated 8:03 a.m. PT, Sat., Feb. 6, 2010
LE MARS, IOWA - Bald eagles are being attacked by an emerging predator. It's
in the food they eat. Eagle protection agencies have been seeing eagles
that are oddly sick, explained Plymouth County Naturalist Victoria De Vos.
"They started testing the blood and they are finding out that they had very
high levels of lead, a neurotoxin," De Vos said. "It was basically
paralyzing them in different ways."
Bald eagles are getting lead poisoning by eating deer carcasses that have
fragments of lead slugs in them. These carcasses are often those of deer
wounded by hunters but not retrieved. "Eagles aren't very delicate eaters,"
said De Vos. "They don't pick through their food and see what they're
Lead poisoning is becoming more widespread, or at least more widely
recognized, in Iowa's eagles. "Hunters have been harvesting more deer in
Iowa, and most deer in Iowa are shot with a lead slug," said Kay Neumann,
executive director at Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR), an organization
dedicated to eagle and other raptor rehabilitation along with research and
education. SOAR is based in Dedham, Iowa.
Neumann and others are urging hunters to replace lead ammunition with
copper, which doesn't poison wildlife. When a lead slug enters a deer,
parts of it shatter and spread out in the animal. Even the tiniest pieces
are dangerous for eagles, because they are very susceptible to lead, Neumann
said. "Two hundred milligrams is lethal to them. That's a baby aspirin size
piece," she said. "They have such efficient digestive systems, it goes
straight to their blood."
Already this season, Neumann has treated four bald eagles with lead
poisoning. "When they come in, they can't stand up, their stomach lining is
ulcerated and they're puking green, some come in blind and they're usually
gasping for air. The lead interferes with the oxygen in their blood, so
they're starting to suffocate," Neumann said. "It's horrible."
Lead mimics calcium, so eagles' bodies (and human bodies) readily absorb it
and send it into the bones, blood and neurological system. "The eagles'
brains swell, some have seizures," Neumann said.
Last year in Iowa, 27 of 40 bald eagles treated at Iowa centers showed lead
poisoning in their blood. Only a few had actually been shot. "When it's
more than 60 percent, it's not random," Neumann said of eagles eating
carcasses with lead. Pointing out that not all sick eagles are brought in
for care, she estimated up to 176 eagles in Iowa could have been affected by
lead poisoning in 2009 alone. "That's half of our breeding population," she
Eagles aren't the only ones eating lead in their meat. Humans also
unknowingly eat venison with lead fragments in it at times. Children are
especially susceptible to lead poisoning because their bodies absorb
calcium, and therefore lead, very quickly. In children, high levels of lead
can do is lower their IQ, cause attention deficit disorder or worse, Neumann
said. Lead has also been linked to diseases in adults like kidney failure,
There is a treatment available to both eagles and humans: chelation. "It's
injections twice a day for the eagles," Neumann said. "It combines with the
lead in the blood in a way that the kidneys can get rid of." Chelation is a
four-week process of continually cleaning the blood. Even with treatment,
the eagles may still die or never fully recover. "Most of these eagles come
in with really high levels," Neumann said. "Most are not making it."
Neumann, who said her whole family hunts deer, is calling on all hunters to
use copper ammunition.
"An eagle can eat an entire copper slug and be OK," she said. Copper
ammunition, she admitted, is more expensive than lead. Copper solid shotgun
slugs might cost $15 for a box of five, where lead slugs are around $9 or
$10, she said. Dick Halter, owner of Shirts 'N Shooters in Le Mars, priced
the difference for .22 long rifle cartridges and .270 caliber cartridges.
For the .22 cartridges, lead core bullets were $2.99 for a 50 pack and the
lead-free variety were $6.99 for a 50 pack. For the .270 caliber
cartridges, the price is about the same. "That surprised me," Halter said.
He noted that states are pushing more and more for non-lead ammunition. In
Iowa, lead shot is illegal to use while hunting waterfowl. The idea is to
prevent animals from eating the shot off the bottom of wetlands or from
eating animals injured by the lead shot. California has strict regulations
about lead bullets, he said. Neumann said the change isn't happening fast
enough. She expects to see more lead-poisoned eagles in February with
numbers peaking in March.
"Northwest Iowa is a travel pathway for eagles," she said. "As they cut
cross country away from the reservoirs heading north, they scavenge more."
De Vos said the lead poisoning seen in eagles "is a shame." "To have bald
eagles just off the endangered species list, and now this," De Vos said.
"It's not good."
Information from: Daily Sentinel, http://www.lemarssentinel.com
Very interesting and alarming article that certainly could impact our eagles. Does anyone know if FL has any rules concerning copper vs. lead bullets? That would be a very good cause for our Steering Committee to address.
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