Lead poisoning is a serious problem for our national icon. Each year, lead ammunition used by deer hunters for recreational and population control purposes endangers the thousands of bald eagles wintering in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the surrounding area.
Lead-free bullets offer a safe, effective alternative to the spent ammunition that is known to cause lead poisoning.
“Fragments from the lead bullets we have historically used are toxic for eagles and other birds of prey that scavenge from animal remains and gut piles,” said U of M expert Pat Redig, D. V. M., Ph.D. with the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center.
Redig, who has been hunting and collecting data on lead poisoning in eagles for more than 35 years says that while the primary concern arises from lead ammunition used for big game hunting, other lead munitions used for hunting upland game (shotgun, .22 rifle and pellet gun) are also problematic if wounded or dead animals are left in the field.
Every year in mid-October, around the time deer hunting season begins, The Raptor Center sees an increase in the number of bald eagles brought into its clinic for lead poisoning. Twenty five percent of the 100-120 eagle patients The Raptor Center sees each year are admitted because of lead poisoning.
“An eagle with lead poisoning is very likely to die,” says Dr. Redig. “Even if the bird responds to treatment and doesn’t die as a direct result of the poisoning, the permanent damage to his heart or brain will significantly impede his ability to survive in the wild.”
With a few hundred thousand deer alone gutted in the field during deer hunting season each year, eagles can easily find a way to food contaminated with lead bullet fragments.
“By using lead-free (copper) bullets, hunters can continue doing what they love and help play an important part in protecting the bald eagle from preventable harm,” said Dr. Redig.
Copper bullets can provide an eagle-safe, effective hunting alternative. Available for nearly all calibers used in deer hunting, and often lauded for their ballistic superiority over lead, copper bullets may cost slightly more, but they also may be instrumental in saving an eagle’s life.
Interested in learning more? The Raptor Center will be at Cabela’s Deer Camp in Rogers, MN this Saturday, October 20 with Maxime the Bald Eagle.