By Barbara Kessler
My hometown made the news this week, when a man from Mora, MN initiated the rescue of a bald eagle he'd seen stuck in the snow behind his home.
He wisely called the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota to make the actual recovery, which was not a simple matter because the bird hopped and ran through the snow and a corn field. But as you can see from this amazing picture, transport volunteer Terry Headley eventually had the injured raptor well in hand.
The bird turned out to have injuries to her feet and a broken or dislocated wing. The story on LOTL Rescue speculated that the eagle had either been injured in a territorial battle with another of her kind, or possibly had been hit by a car.
But also concerning, the giant bird was found to be suffering from lead poisoning.
It's well known that large birds often end up at the receiving end of lead ammunition that's been fired into their environment and embedded into their prey. Condors and eagles are known to consume these bullets and wind up weakened by the heavy dose of lead poisoning.
Fortunately, California is leading the way toward a solution. In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation requiring the use of nonlead, nontoxic ammunition for all hunting by 2019. This makes California the first state to enact a ban – albeit one with long lead time – and is expected to push the issue forward.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) opposes the change on the grounds that it could raise the cost of ammunition.
Many groups praised California’s move, though, because it will protect hunters and people eating game (with lead shards) as well as prey animals. The law also will help clean up the swamps and wilderness areas where spent lead ammunition poisons waterways.
"California has taken a historic step to protect its wildlife from lead poisoning," said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity in Oct. 2013, when the Brown signed Assembly Bill 711 into law. "Switching to nontoxic ammunition will save the lives of eagles, condors and thousands of other birds every year – and, importantly, will keep hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead."
But lead ammunition needs to go away everywhere and a coalition of more than 250 conservation and environmental groups has petitioned the EPA for national regulations to forbid the use of lead bullets.
The coalition wants an across-the-board ban. Hunters already are forbidden from using lead shot in water fowl hunting to stem lead pollution. That partial ban, enacted in 1991, has prompted the development of many alternative nontoxic shots, and that would help enable an easy switch to better ammunition.
Many scientists have gone on record in favor of banning lead-based ammunition as well. Several issued a statement in March 2013.
Lead exposure can be very serious, and its effects are well documented. It's known to cause cognitive impairments in children who have ingested it and also can depress reproduction in wildlife and humans.
Fortunately, our Minnesota eagle is expected to regain full health and fly again within a month, according to the LOTL rescue report.
(Thanks to Cynthia Grahek Johnson for letting us know about this good news rescue.)
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