From CSKT Natural Resources Department
FLATHEAD RESERVATION — Early winter is the time of year when wildlife officials and raptor rehabilitation centers notice a spike in bald eagles with lead poisoning. Most eagles admitted to rehabilitation centers for injuries have lead in their blood. Of these, 20-25 percent have toxic levels that lead to death. Unusual behaviors of eagles effected by lead include a droopy head, unable to fly, sitting instead of standing, and no fear or awareness of humans. The chance of recovery in birds with toxic levels of lead are low, even if transported to a rehabilitation center.
The Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes banned the use of lead shot for waterfowl and upland bird hunting in 1978. Bald eagles are poisoned when they eat prey and carrion with fragments of lead in them. A standard 130 grain bullet has enough lead to kill 102 eagles. Even though CSKT banned lead shot in bird hunting, lead ammunition used for big game and predator control of coyotes and other species leave behind lead fragments that can end up poisoning eagles and other scavengers.
Lead is also poisonous to hawks and other raptors and can also be found in waterfowl like the common loon and trumpeter swan. Loons and swans ingest lead shot, tackle and sinkers while feeding on ponds and wetlands. Once ingested, the poisoning effects the central nervous system and causes kidney failure.
Ways that you can help prevent bald eagles and trumpeter swans from being exposed to lead include switching to non-toxic fishing tackle and ammunition for all shooting, and burying carcasses or gut piles shot with lead ammunition to prevent exposure.
If you see an eagle with these symptoms, DO NOT approach them. Report the sighting to with wildlife management program through Tribal Dispatch at 675-4700. For more information, contact Kari Eneas, Wildlife Biologist for the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, at (406) 883-2888, ext. 7217 or Kari.Eneas@cskt.org