Did you know that hunters are responsible for the return of the bald eagle in our state? In the late 1970’s there were only TWO or THREE bald eagle nests in our whole state. Today, with the success of the Game Commission’s recovery program, we proudly have more than 300 nests here at home!
Unfortunately, we have recently lost a number of bald eagles here due to lead poisoning. We need our hunters help to keep our eagles alive. Lead is an easy metal to use for a variety of purposes. As a result, humans leave behind a lot of lead when interacting with their environment. But lead in the environment is dangerous to eagles and can be fatal if levels within their bodies become high enough.
To help do our part to keep the eagles safe, we are sharing a few suggestions for our hunters. Together, we can help keep our eagles from being an unintended target in the field.
The easiest way to keep our eagles safe is to use a non-lead ammunition when hunting small game. However, we do understand that a lot of hunters still prefer lead ammunition. If you do use it, we kindly ask that you bury any leftover carcasses or cover any gut piles with sticks. This will, at least, detract eagles from ingesting any lead fragments.
Lead that causes toxicity in bald eagles is acquired through ingestion. Research shows that most lead acquisition comes from unretrieved carcasses – gut piles, varmint carcasses left in the field and carcasses of game that couldn’t be located. Bald eagles ingest lead ammunition fragments distributed in the tissues of these carcasses. When the lead hits the bird’s acidic stomach, it gets broken down and absorbed into their bloodstream where it can be distributed to tissues throughout their body.
Lead can affect bodily function, the nervous system, muscular-skeletal and digestive systems and the function of the brain, liver and kidneys. Birds with lead poisoning may be weak, emaciated and uncoordinated. They may not be able to move, fly or walk. They may have seizures, refuse to eat and appear blind. Bald eagles with lead poisoning often do not respond at all when approached.
The bald eagle is proudly lauded as our national emblem. It symbolizes great strength and dignity. Anyone who has ever witnessed a bald eagle flying overhead can tell you how exciting it is to witness one in the wild. We want memories like that to continue to generations to come. As conservationists, and people who love wildlife, we know we join you in wanting to preserve these special birds. We thank you in advance for your assistance.