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Lead poisoning killing bald eagles; bird population faces threat

Bald eagles that are impacted by chronic lead exposure are at risk in the US.

Bald eagles, the national bird of the United States, is fast seeing the doors of life closing in on them. Heavily impacted by chronic lead exposure, the bald eagles might fly into oblivion. The loss would be not just for America, but the whole world.

Close to half the number of existing bald eagles which were tested across the US landscape has returned chronic lead exposure. This is an alarming situation as the bald eagles were brought back from the edge of extinction some time earlier.

DDT had almost wiped out bald eagles

As it was found that the toxic lead presence in the bones of bald eagles, the US administration had banned the pesticide DDT way back in 1972. The pesticide was found to be the cause of the lead presence. However, successful efforts had helped in the removal of the birds from the US Endangered Species List in 2007.

However, now the situation has returned with alarming effect. The blood, bones, feathers and liver tissue of 1,210 eagles sampled between 2010 to 2018 were studied to gauge the presence of lead. The result was that close to 50 percent of the samples were found as repeatedly exposed to lead. Presence of lead is an alarming factor, as the neurotoxin could impair an eagle’s balance and stamina, reducing its ability to fly, hunt and reproduce, even if it is found in low doses. Larger doses of lead can result in breath issues and death.

According to the study, lead exposure has cut down the growth in annual population of bald eagles by 4 percent, while for golden eagles it went down by 1 percent.

High lead levels cause for concern

The current situation is that lead levels are still high, and that could be a cause for concern. Lead presence can bring down eagle population growth, and also decrease their ability to stand up to future challenges such as climate change or infectious diseases.  

It has also been revealed that high levels of lead exposure occur during fall and winter, and this is when the hunting season dawns in many American states. When hunters shoot animals and leave carcasses in the wild, eagles prey on them. Along with food, they consume lead from bullet fragments too.

Bald eagles being the national bird in the US, it has become imperative to help them live. Efforts are on, and let’s hope they will survive.

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Sanjeev Ramachandran

A journalist with 23 years of experience, Sanjeev has worked with reputed media houses such as Business Standard, The Ne More »
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