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Lead in the Environment

Lead is poisonous to humans and animals alike.

Bald Eagle banner - Tinsley Hunsdorfer
Veterinarian Deb Sheaffer holds a Bald Eagle that was treated at the Wildlife Care Center for lead poisoning - Tinsley Hunsdorfer

Lead is poisonous to humans and animals alike. While the toxin has been banned from items like paint and pipes, it is still legal to use lead ammunition for hunting animals other than waterfowl in the state of Oregon, a practice that poses a threat to wild birds that eat meat or scavenge.

Upon impact, lead ammunition can shatter into many small pieces. When a Bald Eagle, for example, eats the remains of an animal that has been shot with lead, it ingests fragments of the toxic metal along with the carcass. It only takes a tiny amount of lead to poison animals, causing immense suffering and sometimes death.

The Audubon Society of Portland is committed to reducing wild animals’ exposure to lead in Oregon, and is currently conducting local lead research and exploring educational, administrative, legislative and legal avenues to accomplish this objective. It’s time to get lead out of our environment – and out of hunters’ food – by switching to the use of nonlead ammunition for hunting.

Local Lead Research

In January 2013, Portland Audubon launched a study of lead’s impact on local raptors, ravens and Turkey Vultures, the Portland-area birds most likely to eat the remains of animals shot with lead ammunition. The research is made possible by funding from the Oregon Zoo, and will continue through 2015.

Whenever Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center admits one of these birds, staff members draw a blood sample and run it through an on-site machine that tests for lead. The results are forming a growing database that tracks the local extent of lead poisoning in these high-risk species.

Researchers at Portland Audubon have completed a preliminary report on the results from calendar year 2013; more than 200 raptors, vultures and ravens pass through the care center in an average year, a good sample size for the study.

Case Study

On May 13, 2013, the Wildlife Care Center received a call about a Bald Eagle that seemed unable to fly. Care center operations manager Lacy Campbell headed to the site in Longview, Wash., fording a creek to bring the 3-foot-tall bird back to Audubon, where a blood test revealed he was suffering from severe lead poisoning.

According to Portland Audubon veterinarian Deb Sheaffer, the eagle likely developed lead poisoning after eating from an animal that had been shot with lead ammunition. Not only did the bird have high levels of lead in his blood, but an X-ray also revealed metal in his stomach. Learn more.

Additional Resources

Lead FAQs
Get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how lead ammunition impacts wildlife.

Health Risks from Lead-Based Ammunition in the Environment: A Consensus Statement of Scientists
University of California, Santa Cruz | March 22, 2013

Sources and Implications of Lead Ammunition and Fishing Tackle on Natural Resources
The Wildlife Society | June 2008

Fact Sheet: Lead Poisoning in Wild Birds
USGS National Wildlife Health Center | September 2009

Media Coverage

Loopy from Lead Poinoning Bald Eagles Getting Hit by Cars
Washington Post | Feb. 6, 2016

"Will The California Condor Put Lead Bullets On The Endangered Ammo List?"
OPB | Oct. 2, 2014

"Editorial: It’s time to keep lead out of the environment"
The Daily Astorian | July 1, 2014


Bald Eagle receives treatment for lead poisoning in the Wildlife Care Center - Tinsley Hunsdorfer
Portland Audubon staff and volunteers prepare to draw blood from a Bald Eagle with lead poisoning - Tinsley Hunsdorfer
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