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The New Challenge Facing Bald Eagles

December 2019

By Ranger Amy

bald eagle on a nest high in a treeOur park offers guided hikes and canoe trips to view a pair of nesting bald eagles, because it’s amazing to see these majestic raptors living in the wild when they came so close to extinction.

Humans were the initial cause of their decline by using the pesticide DDT and not knowing the full effects that it had on our environment. It was also humans that helped them to recover and rebound.

Although bald eagles are no longer an endangered species they are still not safe from preventable harm. They currently face a new threat.

Lead poisoning

I follow an online Facebook group called “Lead is Poison Coalition” and am amazed at the number of bald eagles that die from lead poisoning every year.

I wondered if lead was a problem for our East Texas bald eagles, so I talked to Kelly Rayner from Last Chance Forever bird of prey conservancy in San Antonio. What Kelly told me made my heart sink. Almost all the bald eagles that they receive at their rehabilitation center come from East Texas and every single one of them is suffering from some level of lead poisoning.

penny next to two small lead shot pellets; text says "When ingested, this amount of lead is enough to poison and kill a bald eagle."

How are these bald eagles getting lead poisoning? Let’s look at their diet.

They are carnivores, eating fish, ducks, roadkill, and gut piles left behind at hunting camps. Each food source can potentially contain lead. Fish and ducks can ingest lead fishing tackle or pellets, but ducks may also have survived being shot and have lead pellets in their bodies. Hunters leave gut piles to be recycled into the environment; the piles often contain lead pellets and fragments which eagles and other wildlife ingest.

As I write this, I can’t help but think about my tackle box sitting in the garage. How many of my fishing weights are lead? My husband and his family have always used family private lands for target shooting, all with lead bullets.

I’ve been part of the problem, but now I’m ready to become part of the solution by switching to lead-free options. I want to do this not only for my love of birds but for my health and the health of my family.

Indicator species

Something Kelly said to me echoes inside my head: “Raptors are indicator species. If they’re healthy, the earth is healthy, and we’re healthy.”

Years ago, several of their raptors fell ill and died. They had them tested and discovered that West Nile was present in Bexar County. They alerted the CDC and many hospitalized patients were then correctly diagnosed and saved.

Protect and preserve

Next time you venture outside to fish and hunt try switching to non-lead (also known as non-toxic) alternatives. There’s pride that comes with living in a scenic and wild place such as East Texas, but with that comes great responsibility to care for the land and animals that live here.

Eagles and other wildlife need our help to survive this current threat. Let’s protect and preserve our lands so that future generations can grow up watching bald eagles fishing and nesting along the lake.

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