I know...hunting generally hurts animals. I mean, that's kind of the point, right? Whether for food or for sport, the end result of hunting is a dead animal. But, this is an issue that affects bald eagles, specifically, that may not be well known amongst most hunters.
Bald eagles in Michigan are dying...of lead poisoning.
Yes, that was my exact reaction. But, a recent report from mlive.com points to lead fragments from ammunition as the main source of the poisoning. Bald eagles, and other scavengers, most likely accidentally ingest it when picking through a carcass.
Skegemog Raptor Center, in Traverse City, has apparently seen numerous cases of lead poisoning in bald eagles following deer hunting season in Michigan. But, this year seems to be worse.
What are the Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Bald Eagles?
Bald eagles suffering from lead poisoning may:
- be unable to fly or move
- experience tremors
- experience ragged breathing
How Much Lead Do They Consume Before Becoming Sick?
The amount of lead it takes to make a bald eagle sick is minuscule.
In the Mlive article linked above, they quote James Manley, Skegemog Raptor Center's executive director as saying,
It doesn’t take much lead to sicken or kill a bald eagle – a piece as small as a grain of rice can be deadly. Even low levels of chronic exposure can significantly impact a bird’s life, affecting its ability to successfully fly and hunt.
A grain of rice. That's it.
Interlochen Public Radio also covered this problem and shared a few x-rays of affected bald eagles:
While wildlife rehabilitators can administer a treatment if the case is mild enough, lead poisoning continues to be the third leading cause of death for bald eagles. Most with lead poisoning either pass away or are humanely euthanized.
What Can We Do?
First, if you come across a bald eagle (or any wild animal) that is acting sick, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center before attempting to collect or help the animal.
Second, if you're a hunter, consider alternative ammo. Other states have banned the use of lead ammunition completely due to the threat it poses to birds of prey. This, of course, would be tough to do nationwide.
Like with any hobby, some hunters prefer lead ammunition because that's what they've always used. But, it's also the cheaper alternative. So, an all-out ban might be a bit too divisive.
Third, vote. If this comes up in legislation and you'd like to see it passed, make sure you get out there and vote!
Otherwise, if you, too, were surprised by the fact that bald eagles are often dying of lead poisoning, spread the word! The more people know about it the more likely it is that a solution will be found. At least, that's the hope.
You can learn more about Skegemog Raptor Center, what they do, and more here.
We actually have a few bald eagles flying around SW Michigan. If you live in the Portage area, here's where you might spot them:
Love to bird watch but don't want to leave your house? No problem. Check this out: