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US bald eagles have lead poisoning

Bald eagle in flight seen from the side. It carries a fish in its claws.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Lorraine Boyd took this image on February 12, 2022. She wrote: “On Onondaga Lake, New York, dozens of bald eagles come until late winter … I was on a bridge when this one flew right by.” Thank you, Lorraine! Bald eagles are the U.S. national bird, and, in recent decades, they’ve bounced back from near-extinction. But now they’re facing a new threat.

US bald eagles have lead poisoning

The journal Science reported on February 17, 2022, that almost half of bald and golden eagles in the United States have lead poisoning, according to a new study. It said the study was “the largest of its kind” and added:

The findings could spell bad news for the recovery of both species.

Scientists found signs of chronic lead poisoning in 46% of bald and 47% of golden eagles they studied.

The new threat from lead occurs when eagles eat ammunition left behind after hunters shoot deer and other prey. And the solution, these scientists said, is education.

Science published this study in its peer-reviewed journal on February 17.

The bald eagle is the U.S. national bird. But they were nearing extinction in the 1960s, before Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring swayed public opinion on the subject of chemical pesticides, ultimately leading to a ban on DDT in 1972. Since then, bald eagle populations have increased. And, in 2007, these birds were officially delisted from the U.S. endangered species list.

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Bald eagle with beak open, sitting on a thick branch.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | John Merriam took this image of a bald eagle at sunset in St. Johns County, Florida, on February 21. Thank you, John!

The eagles aren’t the only ones

Krysten Schuler of Cornell University, who was not a part of the study, said that the issue extends beyond eagles. Fish, mammals, and other birds likely also suffer from lead poisoning. She said the bald eagles hint at a larger problem:

They’re a poster species for this issue.

The California Condor, a critically endangered species, has also suffered from lead poisoning. In an effort to remove lead from the Condor’s habitat and improve its chances of survival, California passed a bill in 2013 requiring the use of nonlead ammunition statewide.

Vincent Slabe, lead author of the study and a wildlife biologist at the nonprofit Conservation Science Global, said that most hunters are unaware of the problem. Education is key. He explained how hunters who are aware of the issue are willing to help:

In the hunter education programs I’ve done, they’re really receptive to this issue.

More bald eagle photos from EarthSky’s community, February 2022

At EarthSky Community Photos this month, people have posted many bald eagle photos. That’s likely because winter is the best time to see them in the U.S. In winter, you can find bald eagles in every U.S. state except Hawaii. said:

Although they usually stay around water, you can also find them in rangelands and farmland, where they will gather to feed on the carcasses of animals that are winter killed.

It’s not the sting of Arctic air that drives the eagles south. The big birds don’t care about the cold. What they’re after is food …

Read more about bald eagles at

US bald eagles: Two bald eagles sitting atop an evergreen with pine cones.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Cecille Kennedy in Depoe Bay Harbor, Oregon, took this image on February 16, 2022. Cecille wrote: “A pair of resident bald eagles atop a tall spruce tree. They mate for life and they must be building or remodeling an existing nest at this time. I watched them for a while after taking this photo. One flew away, the other followed. They soared and danced what is likely an aerial courtship routine, which unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to capture. Nonetheless it’s beautiful to see them.” Thank you, Cecille!
Bald eagle sitting in a tree with blue sky and branches crossing in front.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Billy Wolf in Smithville, Missouri, took this image on February 19, 2022. Billy wrote: “This eagle was sitting in the tallest tree overlooking 2 ponds that had geese on them, but it was just watching over the area. It didn’t seem to mind that I approached cautiously and snapped the picture. Just sat there in a regal pose.” Thank you, Billy!
Close up of white head of bald eagle.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Marcia Bower in Onondaga Lake, Syracuse, New York, took this image on February 7, 2022. Marcia wrote: “Here in Syracuse we have close to 100 eagles visiting for the winter. I photograph them daily!” Thank you, Marcia!
An eagle with brown body and white head settles on a branch from a green and yellow tree with an open yellow beak.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Susan Kline took this photo of a bald eagle in Kennebunk, New England, on October 22, 2021, and wrote: “A beautiful fall day in New England. Bald eagles are fishing from the trees.” Thank you, Susan!
An eagle with brown body and white head flies with very open wings.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Lorraine Boyd photographed this bald eagle in Onandaga Lake, Syracuse, New York, on February 20, 2022, and wrote: “Probably one of my favorite captures of the bald eagle, this one flew up onto the tree that was to the side of the bridge I was standing on. It is one of the dozens of eagles that visit the Onandaga Lake from December through mid March or so, to be near what ever water is open for a food source when the lakes freeze over.” Thank you, Lorraine!

Bottom line: Scientists said in early 2022, they found signs of chronic lead poisoning in 46% of bald and 47% of golden eagles they studied.

Source: Demographic implications of lead poisoning for eagles across North America

Via Science

February 23, 2022

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