Study: Deer hunters could be hurting eagles

Deer hunters could be indirectly harming the Midwestern population of American bald eagles, according to research from a bird rehabilitation center. Kay Newman is director of SOAR, or Save Our Avian Resources. She says they’re tracking lead poisoning cases in eagles.

Newman says: “We take in sick and injured wild birds, try to fix whatever’s wrong with them and release them back into the wild. Through that, (the lead poisoning) is kind of a monitoring tool as far as what is causing mortality for wild populations.” In recent years, the western Iowa-based group has also helped monitor for West Nile virus and for avian flu.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says wintering populations of eagles in the Husker State have exceeded 1,100 birds in three recent winters, and nesting attempts seem to be on the increase.

Still, Newman says she’s been stunned by the amount of lead poisoning they’re finding in sick and dying bald eagles from across the region. “Over half of the eagles that are coming to us for rehabilitation have abnormal lead levels,” Newman says. “They’re ingesting lead. Through a lot of X-ray work, we have found shrapnel in their stomachs, little shards, little pieces of lead.”

It’s clear how the eagles are becoming poisoned, she says. They’ve X-rayed deer carcasses and have found shrapnel in deer that were evidently wounded by hunters and got away — but later died. Newman says, “It’s free food for eagles but it’s also got lead shrapnel in it.” Newman has been in touch with state natural resources officials to tell them lead is harming our national symbol.

The complete report can be found at the SOAR website, ““.