Just as America’s population of wicked eagles has skyrocketed in recent years, new research has revealed that the population is facing a new setback: lead poisoning.
New search published in Science found that nearly half of bald eagles and golden eagles in the United States are lead poisoned, with eagles surveyed in 38 states over an eight-year period. Tissues from 1,210 bald and golden eagles were collected and results showed chronic lead poisoning in 46% of bald eagles and 47% of golden eagles.
Scientists also found signs of more immediate lead exposure in 27-33% of bald eagles and 7-35% of golden eagles, with the proportion depending on the type of tissue taken.
Models comparing natural and lead-caused deaths have also shown that lead levels can retard the annual population growth of bald eagles by just under 4%, and by just under 1% in bald eagles. golden eagles every year.
Although lead poisoning is alarming to scientists, Bryan Watts, an ecologist at the College of William & Mary, told Science he’s not sure a 4% drop in population growth will put a damper significant to the recovery of bald eagles. He noted that many local populations include a “buffer” group of non-breeding adult eagles that could swoop in and breed if some are lost.
Currently, there are more than 300,000 bald eagles in the wild today, and Todd Katzner, conservation ecologist at the US Geological Survey and author of the new research, said: “Bald eagle populations are doing brilliantly in the United States”.
However, previous research published in the Wildlife Management Journal warned that bald eagles are threatened by spent lead ammunition left in the carcasses of animals that eagles feed on. The study estimated that lead contamination could reduce eagle population growth by 4-6% per year in the northeast.
“Even though the population appears to have recovered, a disturbance could occur that could cause the eagles to decline further,” said Krysten Schuler, a Cornell University researcher and lead author of the study, in a report.
This assessment appears to have come true when scientists studied the tissues of nearly 1,200 bald and king eagles.
Wildlife rehabilitation clinics have long reported incidents of eagles with bullet fragments in their stomachs and studies of lead sampling in local eagle populations have also hinted that poisoning could become a widespread problem.
Apart from death, if birds ingest large amounts of lead, it can cause adverse effects on the nervous and reproductive systems of the animals. Poison eagles may also experience loss of balance, tremors, and reduced ability to fly.
There were decades of federal protections for bald eagles as they once approached the brink of extinction, reaching an all-time high of just 417 known breeding pairs in the continental United States in the early 1990s. 1960.
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