Lead Isotope Analysis of a Juvenile Bald Eagle

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A male, 3-4 month old bald eagle was discovered in June, 2015 with a broken left wing and clinical signs of chronic lead toxicity.


Upon its death, researchers performed a lead isotope analysis to identify potential sources of lead in the juvenile eagle. A necropsy revealed a significant amount of anthropogenic debris in the bird’s gizzard, including rubber balloons, multiple plastic particles, and an aluminum soda can tab. The lead isotope ratios in the animal’s femur, liver, and kidney were most closely related to lead paint, leaded gasoline, and zinc smelting, while ratios were dissimilar to lead ammunition and the debris found in the gizzard. From the high lead levels in the bird’s bones and organs, researchers concluded that the bird was likely exposed to chronic, low lead levels throughout its short life. This report demonstrates the clinical utility of lead isotope analysis to identify or exclude anthropogenic sources of lead poisoning in wildlife.

Franzen-Klein, D., McRuer, D., Slabe, V.A., Katzner, T.E., 2018, The use of lead isotope analysis to identify potential sources of lead toxicosis in a juvenile bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) with ventricular foreign bodies: Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, v. 32, no. 1, p. 34-39, https://doi.org/10.1647/2016-184.

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