October 27, 2022 – Despite dramatic population recovery in recent decades, bald eagles continue to be sickened and die from lead poisoning. Death and illness rates are comparable to rates seen prior to the 1991 ban on lead shot used in waterfowl hunting.
“You may see bald eagles now where you didn’t before, but their recovery was reduced because lead was present in the environment, particularly from hunters’ bullets in carcasses,” said Dr. Krysten Schuler, Assistant Research Professor and wildlife disease ecologist at Cornell University and Foundation-funded researcher.
Lead is a neurotoxin that even in low doses impairs an eagle’s balance and stamina, reducing its ability to fly, hunt and reproduce. In high doses, lead causes seizures, breathing difficulty and death. Eagles and other scavengers ingest lead when they feed on the remains of animals killed with lead ammunition. Lead also can persist in water sources.
Cornell researchers showed ingestion of lead reduced the long-term growth rate and resiliency of bald eagles in the northeast United States over the last three decades. This new information is helping inform policy and public communication about lead exposure in bald eagles and other wildlife, to ensure America’s national bird continues to soar in our skies.