A Regina wildlife rehabilitation centre is raising awareness after two sick bald eagles found days apart, died of lead poisoning.
“We know that they are such stoic, strong birds that it will take a lot for them to show any weakness,” said Megan Lawrence, Salthaven West Rehabilitation Director.
Lawrence says in December, two bald eagles were rescued east of Estevan, Sask. She says both were weak, emaciated, dehydrated and barely able to stand.
“After we received the first one, we knew it was a high probability of poison in that area,” Lawrence said. “They both lasted only about 48 hours in care before passing away.”
With coyote carcasses in the area where the eagles were found, Lawrence suspected they had been shot with lead ammunition. She says because bald eagles are scavengers, it’s likely they would have eaten the carcasses.
An autopsy later confirmed her suspicions regarding the lead poisoning.
According to a study by the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, the number one cause of death in bald eagles in Saskatchewan is poisoning.
“We learned that slightly more than 50 per cent of bald eagles that were submitted to our diagnostic lab in Saskatoon here (between 1999 and 2012) died of poisonings,” said Trent Bollinger, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative regional director.
Bollinger says that includes both insecticides and lead, with the majority of cases happening during the winter.
“Certainly by far, the largest causes of mortality in these eagles are related to human activities,” said Bollinger.
“We’re seeing them at a time when there’s lead bullets that are present in carcasses or animals that haven’t been retrieved, or they’ve been dressed out and the organs are left behind that might have residues of lead shots in them.”
More than two decades ago the Canadian government banned lead for hunting migratory game birds, but lead ammunition is still used for hunting large game.
“We continue to see lead poisoning in eagles and in other raptors fairly regularly,” Bollinger said. “It seems to be unchanged from previous years and we’re also seeing this right through North America.”
Lawrence says she wants to see lead banned altogether, to help prevent another tragic death.
“It’s a problem in every rehab center where eagles are coming in,” Lawrence said.
“Almost all of them will test positive for lead. So I know we’d like to see definitely less use of lead out there.”