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Fact Sheet 2009–3051

Prepared by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center

Lead Poisoning in Wild Birds

By Lesanna L. Lahner and J. Christian Franson

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.3 MB)


Lead in its various forms has been used for thousands of years, originally in cooking utensils and glazes and more recently in many industrial and commercial applications. However, lead is a potent, potentially deadly toxin that damages many organs in the body and can affect all animals, including humans. By the mid 1990s, lead had been removed from many products in the United States, such as paint and fuel, but it is still commonly used in ammunition for hunting upland game birds, small mammals, and large game animals, as well as in fishing tackle. Wild birds, such as mourning doves, bald eagles, California condors, and loons, can die from the ingestion of one lead shot, bullet fragment, or sinker. According to a recent study on loon mortality, nearly half of adult loons found sick or dead during the breeding season in New England were diagnosed with confirmed or suspected lead poisoning from ingestion of lead fishing weights. Recent regulations in some states have restricted the use of lead ammunition on certain upland game hunting areas, as well as lead fishing tackle in areas frequented by common loons and trumpeter swans. A variety of alternatives to lead are available for use in hunting, shooting sports, and fishing activities.

For additional information contact:
Gail Moede Rogall
USGS National Wildlife Health Center
6006 Schroeder Rd.
Madison, WI 53711
Phone: (608) 270-2400

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Lahner, L.L., and Franson. J.C., 2009, Lead poisoning in wild birds: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2009–3051, 4 p.

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