Rehab center seeing more bald eagles dying from lead poisoning

Published: Apr. 6, 2018 at 9:09 PM CDT
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A once endangered bird is facing a new threat: lead poisoning. Federal laws protect bald eagles. It's illegal to hunt them, but they are still dying at the hands of hunters using lead ammunition.

“It's tough. It’s tough. It's like we feel like we failed,” said Betsy Finch. That's how Finch says she feels when an eagle can't be rehabilitated and dies from lead poisoning. It usually happens after feeding on an animal that has been killed with a lead bullet.

“This seems to be the worst I’ve seen it in years,” Finch said. “We get some lead poisoned eagles in every year. It is a real problem. It’s been a problem for 25 years or more.”

In January, six bald eagles were taken to Fontenelle Forest Raptor Recovery in Elmwood. Only two survived.

“But if we don't get them in time there isn't much we can do,” Finch said.

Lead kills eagles very quickly. Officials say it only takes a grain of rice sized piece to be lethal. But there are some preventive steps that hunters, like Kent Walton, can take.

“Just stop using lead and encourage your friends form stop using lead. Just be aware when you put lead in the environment like that, it has consequences if an animal ingests it,” Walton told 6 News.

Most hunters use lead because it’s heavier, more accurate and cheaper. But Walton encourages hunters to become more educated about the alternatives.

“They are beautiful birds. If I can help prevent them from being lead poisoned when I'm out hunting by using nontoxic shot such as steel, bismuth – I'm happy to do that,” he said.

Raptor Recovery Rehab is determined to preserve our national bird. In fact two eagles at the rehab will soon have a new home.

“Two are out in the big flight pen right now preparing for release probably within two weeks. I'm hoping they will get to go,” said Finch.

It's not entirely hunters' fault. In general there is a lot of lead in the environment. Hunters are usually the ones who find the poisoned birds.