Michigan raptor center nurses poisoned bald eagles
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (NBC, KYMA/KECY) - Sixteen years after America's national bird was removed from the endangered species list, the population of eagles is once again being affected.
The bald eagle is the national symbol of the United States. For many, eagles represent strength, freedom, and immortality. But increased exposure to a toxic material is posing a threat to this magnificent creature.
"48-50 percent of bald and golden eagles in the United States are carrying chronic levels of lead," James Manley of Skegemog Raptor Center spoke.
In 2022, the Skegemog Raptor Center in Traverse City began testing eagles admitted for rehabilitation.
75-to-80% of them had some level of lead poisoning.
"We're seeing that even if lead isn't killing them outright, it's affecting their ability to hunt, it affects their cognitive function," Manley further explained.
So how are eagles coming into contact with lead?
"The main contributing factor to lead poisoning is from lead ammunition," Manley said.
DNR Wildlife Biologist Steve Griffith further explained this saying, "An animal that wasn't recovered during hunting season, deer for instance, the bullet will fragment and there could be bullet fragments in there that they could ingest."
And it doesn't take much to affect an eagle.
"For instance a number 6, BB and like a shotgun pellet that is enough kill five to six eagles," Manley detailed.
Lead fishing gear also poses a threat.
"Eagles will eat a lot of fish. and sometimes there's you know sinkers, or fishing lures that may be in there," Griffith detailed.
And although the population of eagles has been making a comeback, lead poisoning is slowing down the population growth.
"We went from like 1970 where we had about 75 breeding pairs in Michigan to currently we have over 800 breeding pairs in the state," Griffith spoke.
However, "The lead is suppressing that by about 3.8%," Manley said.
So what will it take to help solve this man-made problem? A man-made solution.
"The biggest thing we can do is for hunters to lead the way to be able to switch to copper. copper alloy, and different types of ammunition that don't have lead," Manley concluded.
In 2019, California became the first state to outright ban lead bullets.
In Michigan, there are no restrictions on the use of lead fishing tackle or ammunition, although the DNR recommends you use non-toxic alternatives.