WASHINGTON (AP) — Researchers report harmful levels of toxic lead were found in the bones of 46% of bald eagles sampled in 38 states.
Similar rates of lead exposure were found in golden eagles, according to their study Thursday in the journal Science.
The blood, bones, feathers and liver tissue of 1,210 eagles sampled from 2010 to 2018 were examined to assess chronic and acute lead exposure.
“This is the first time for any wildlife species that we’ve been able to evaluate lead exposure and population-level consequences at a continental scale,” said study co-author Todd Katzner, a wildlife biologist at U.S. Geological Survey in Boise, Idaho. “It’s sort of stunning that nearly 50% of them are getting repeatedly exposed to lead.”
Scientists say the raptors likely consumed carrion or prey contaminated by lead from ammunition or fishing tackle.
Bald eagles are one of America’s most celebrated conservation success stories.
But scientists say that high lead levels still suppress eagle population growth and reduce their ability to withstand future challenges, such as climate change and infectious diseases.