In the 27 years that Chintimini Wildlife Center has been rehabilitating wildlife, we have seen more than our fair share of Bald Eagles who are admitted to the clinic with levels of lead exposure or lead poisoning. Some cases are more severe than others. Other animals like geese, ducks, loons, vultures, hawks, ravens, crows also suffer from lead toxicity. It is an eminent threat to our native wildlife.
The symptoms of lead poisoning is weakness, lack of appetite, paralysis, tremors, head dropping, seizures, blindness, weight loss and anemia, among others. Lead poisoning in wildlife is caused by ingestion of lead laced ammunition and fishing sinkers.
According to Michigan.gov:
Lead poisoning has been recognized as a mortality factor in waterfowl since the late 1800’s. Lead poisoning cases today are either the result of ingestion of bullet fragments, spent lead shot or fishing sinkers and jig heads during normal feeding activities. When the lead reaches the acidic environment of the gizzard (loons, ducks, geese and swans) or the ventriculus (eagles), it is worn down, dissolved, and absorbed into body tissues. Once the lead reaches toxic levels in the tissues, muscle paralysis and associated complications result in death.
When a debilitated eagle comes in to CWC, if the cause for admission in not a trauma/injury, toxicity may be the next suspected cause for admission. An exam is performed, including full body x-rays and a blood sample is taken. A routine lead test is performed which determines the amount of lead in the blood and thus the appropriate course of treatment.
Although this sounds rather easy and efficient, there is great room from improvement in regards to time and cost of this testing. The blood sample has to be sent out to Michigan State University via the OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Lab; it takes a week to receive results and costs $80.00 per sample.
If a patient is admitted in the early stages of lead poisoning, their is a much greater prognosis for recovery. Waiting a week to start treatment can be detrimental. Chelating agents (CaEDTA) and fluid therapy treatments are started when any physical symptoms of lead toxicity are observed in order to remove the toxic lead from the patients body, while waiting for blood work results.
Currently Chintimini Wildlife Center does not have an in-house lead testing machine even though it crucially needs one. With one, lead results can be obtained in a matter of minutes! We also would like to test more of our CWC patients whose lead levels may be approaching elevated or dangerous levels.
This Male Juvenile Bald Eagle is a current patient in the CWC ICU. Blood was drawn and sent to OSU/MSU for testing. If CWC had a lead testing machine, the results would have quickly and accurately determined how severe the poisoning was and the exact course of treatment. Throughout courses of treatment, blood lead levels can be continually tested to determined whether the treatment is successful and whether the eagle is ready for a safe release.
A lead testing machine is not cheap and at the moment far exceeds CWC’s budget. Chintimini needs to raise $2,800 to get a lead testing machine and test kit. If you would like to chip in for the cost of this important tool for successful avian rehabilitation, please make a donation to the Bald Eagle Lead Testing Kit Fund.
Aside from donating, you can help prevent lead poisoning in wildlife by using ammunition and fishing sinkers free of lead.
Thanks in advance for your support of Chintimini Wildlife Center and your commitment to protecting our local wildlife and the environment.