Lead Poisoning in Wild Birds

Fact Sheet 2009-3051
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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.
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Lead poisoning in wild birds
Series title Fact Sheet
Series number 2009-3051
DOI 10.3133/fs20093051
Year Published 2009
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) National Wildlife Health Center
Description 4 p.
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