Lead ammo and fishing tackle kill birds. Lead poisoning has been documented in 63 species of birds since 1939, including ravens, pheasants and other game birds, owls, rails, gulls, buzzards, kites, eagles, vultures, condors, falcons, red-tailed hawks, white-throated sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, and solitary vireos.
How are birds and other animals exposed?
- Waterfowl eat ammunition or lead sinkers while foraging in lakes and upland birds mistake shot for seeds or grit and eat it.
- Fish-eating birds like bald eagles and loons eat fish that have eaten lead sinkers or other tackle. Scavenging birds like bald eagles, vultures, condors, and some hawks feed on gutpiles that contain fragments of lead ammo, as well as wounded animals that weren’t recovered by hunters.
Is lead really a problem?
Lead is a toxic metal with no known safe exposure levels for humans or wildlife. In the United States, an estimated 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunting every year, another 80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges, and 4,000 tons are lost in ponds and streams as fishing lures and sinkers. As many as 20 million birds and other animals die each year from subsequent lead poisoning (http://bit.ly/2d7h7KJ and http://bit.ly/2e0eYXs).
Saving Our Avian Resources has done a lot of advocacy for non-toxic shot and they have wonderful information on their website. A few figures that struck me:
- A study by the National Wildlife Health Center between 1975 and 2013 found that trauma and poisonings (including lead poisoning) were the leading causes of death for bald eagles.
- 56% of all eagles admitted to Iowa rehabilitators between 2004 and 2008 had abnormal lead levels in their blood. This ranged from a low of 37.5% in 2004 (with 62.5% of eagles being tested) to a high of 70.0% in 2005 (with 90.0% being tested).
- The University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center in St. Paul received 117 lead-poisoned bald eagles during the winter of 2009. In 2012, Dr. Pat Redig co-authored this paper about spent ammunition and lead poisoning in bald eagles.
- In Canada and the USA, approximately 10–15% of recorded post-fledging mortality in Bald and Golden Eagles was attributed to the ingestion of lead shot from prey animals (Scheuhammer and Norris 1996). Elliott et al. (1992) found that 14% of 294 sick, injured. or dead Bald Eagles in British Columbia (1988 to 1991) were lead-poisoned and an additional 23% sub-clinically exposed.
- A 2012 study by a team at the University of California at Santa Cruz found that 30 percent of blood samples taken from condors each year showed levels of lead high enough to cause significant health problems and that 20 percent of the free-flying birds required treatment to remove lead. From 1992 to 2012, the cause of death was established for 123 condors in California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico; lead was responsible for 42 of the mortalities (https://goo.gl/fmK8Ku).
- While lead poisoning can kill directly, lead toxicity is also a factor in collision deaths and injuries. According to the Raptor Center, about 85% of eagles that come in with collision injuries also have elevated lead levels. This video from the UK shows the effects of lead on a duck’s coordination and motor skills: http://youtu.be/KaVr70-2mpc
Will using non-toxic ammo make a difference?
In 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlawed the use of lead ammunition to hunt migratory waterfowl after estimating that lead pellets killed about 2 million ducks every year. A follow-up survey of ducks on the Mississippi Flyway found that the ban on lead shot reduced lead poisoning deaths of Flyway mallards by 64 percent. The ban prevented the lead poisoning deaths of approximately 1.4 million ducks in the 1997 fall flight of 90 million ducks.
Do non-toxic ammo and fishing tackle actually work?
They do! The total number of migratory waterfowl harvested nationwide declined steeply beginning in about 1984, but started rising again after the ban on lead ammo was enacted, as shown by the chart. Requiring the use of non-toxic shot did not negatively impact waterfowl hunting, but did prevent ducks, geese, and many other animals from coming into contact with lead shot by ingesting it directly or feeding on lead-poisoned animals or carcasses containing shot.
Duck harvest chart, 1960 to 2013