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New study finds high level of chronic to toxic lead poisoning in eagle populations

Chuck Abbe
Wikimedia Commons

A new research paper has found that a large number of bald and golden eagles have chronic to toxic levels of lead in their system. These levels have a potential to decrease population.

The paperpublished in the scientific journal Science is a result of a collaboration of scientists across the United States. In eight years, over 1,200 bald and golden eagles were sampled from across the country.

Corey Anco, Interim curator of the Draper Natural History Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, said the study's reach is notable because eagles are migratory birds so even if one area doesn't use lead bullets they may get it in another area.

"Let's say lead is not a prevalent metal on the landscape in that region. They're spanning large distances. And they're doing this every year. And so they may be picking up lead along the way," he said.

Almost half of the eagles sampled had chronic to toxic levels of lead poisoning that can lead to death or major side effects such as depression that can lead to reducing reproduction and impairing flight. Eagles mainly ingest lead from scavenging gut piles after successful hunts. Anco said this study can serve as a wake up call.

"This is an invisible killer until we can recognize what the issue is and how we correct it," he said. "There are non lead alternatives for everything from fishing tackle, to shot, to lead bullets. And the key is education and awareness."

Scientists worry that golden eagles are especially vulnerable since they have a smaller population and could feel greater effects of lead poisoning on their population. This was the first study of lead poisoning of wildlife at a nationwide scale.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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