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Lead and eagles: demographic and pathological characteristics of poisoning, and exposure levels associated with other causes of mortality

September 24, 2014

We conducted a retrospective analysis to evaluate demographic and pathologic characteristics in 484 bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and 68 golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) diagnosed with lead poisoning at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center. As part of our analysis, we compared characteristics of lead poisoned eagles with those that died of other causes. Odds of lead poisoning were greater for bald eagles versus golden eagles, females versus males, adults versus juveniles, and eagles from the Mississippi and Central flyways versus the Atlantic and Pacific flyways. In addition to spatial, species, and demographic associations, we detected a distinct temporal trend in the collection date of lead poisoned bald eagle carcasses. These carcasses were found at greater frequency in late autumn and winter than spring and summer. Lesions in lead poisoned birds included emaciation, evidence of bile stasis, myocardial degeneration and necrosis, and renal tubular nephrosis and necrosis. Ingested lead ammunition or fragments were found in 14.2 % of bald eagles and 11.8 % of golden eagles. The overall mean liver lead concentration (wet weight basis) for eagles diagnosed with lead poisoning was 28.9 ± 0.69 SE mg/kg in bald eagles and 19.4 ± 1.84 SE mg/kg in golden eagles. In eagles diagnosed with collision trauma, electrocution, poisoning (other than lead), emaciation, infectious disease, trapping death, other, and undetermined causes, average liver lead concentrations were low (<1 mg/kg) and did not differ among causes of mortality. Thus, based on our data, we found no evidence that lead exposure of eagles predisposed them to other causes of mortality.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Lead and eagles: demographic and pathological characteristics of poisoning, and exposure levels associated with other causes of mortality
DOI 10.1007/s10646-014-1337-0
Authors J. Christian Franson, Robin E. Russell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecotoxicology
Index ID 70126753
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center; Contaminant Biology Program

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