Bald eagles throughout the US are dying as a result of lead bullets, but not because someone is intentionally shooting them.
According to the largest eagle rehab center in North Carolina, the Cape Fear Raptor, seven eagles in the past month have been treated for lead poisoning.
As of November 2019, at least 80 percent of the eagles the center euthanized had been lead poisoned.
How Are Bald Eagles Dying from Lead Poisoning?
Hunters are known to use lead bullets when hunting deer and other animals.
Though they’re not targeting these species, the birds are indirectly impacted when they eat the animals which were shot with these bullets.
Dr. Joni Shimp, executive director of the Cape Fear Raptor said that hunters are in no way intentionally trying to kill an eagle, vulture or any other species; however, if the deer doesn’t die immediately and goes away and the hunters can’t find it, it will probably be the eagles and vultures that will eat it and ingest the bullets.
When it enters their stomach, the lead becomes toxic.
The latest incident happened when the Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation found an eagle with symptoms of lead poisoning and it was taken to the Cape Fear for treatment.
The bird was dehydrated, unable to move, and it unfortunately died the same night.
Lead poisoning weakens the bird’s judgement when flying and this may result in being hit by cars, seizures, and even death.
Some eagles do survive the poisoning, depending on its seriousness, and vets usually use chelation therapy- they inject the birds with a drug which binds the toxins in the blood and removes them from the body.
The ones in excessive pain are euthanized and some die, despite the treatment.
Lead Poisoning of Bald Eagles Is a National Problem
According to data by the American Bird Conservancy, millions of birds throughout the US, including bald eagles, are lead poisoned yearly.
Shrimp says this is a US problem and it increases during deer hunting season, but it’s present throughout the whole year.
For Shrimp, the only solution is to educate the hunters of the importance of using ammunition that’s non-lead.
Copper bullets are available online; however, they’re more expensive and not easy to find in stores.
This is why Shrimp says they need to target the chain stores and get them to offer copper bullets.
According to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act from 1940, bald eagles can’t be possessed, sold or hunted.
The federal, state, and municipal laws are still protecting these species even after they stopped being endangered in 2007.