The journal Sciencereported 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.
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.
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. Birdwatching.com 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 …
Kelly Kizer Whitt has been a science writer specializing in astronomy for more than two decades. She began her career at Astronomy Magazine, and she has made regular contributions to AstronomyToday and the Sierra Club, among other outlets. Her children’s picture book, Solar System Forecast, was published in 2012. She has also written a young adult dystopian novel titled A Different Sky. When she is not reading or writing about astronomy and staring up at the stars, she enjoys traveling to the national parks, creating crossword puzzles, running, tennis, and paddleboarding. Kelly lives in Wisconsin.
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