Condor’s Top Cited, #2: Lead Poisoning in Birds

FIGURE 6. Lead poisoning in Bald Eagles following consumption of carcasses containing Pb bullet fragments.

In the next two weeks we’ll be unveiling The Auk and The Condor‘s most cited papers from the past two years, but this week we’re highlighting the second most cited paper from The CondorThe persistent problem of lead poisoning in birds from ammunition and fishing tackle by Haig et al., a review from the August 2014 issue.

Birds are sensitive to lead exposure, which can lead to apparent sublethal or lethal toxic responses, and exposure has been documented in more than 120 species. However, the extent of the problem is difficult to quantify because the rapid onset of toxicity results in low detectability in species that are not intensively monitored and tested. The goal of this review was to summarize scientific information pertaining to the conservation threat of lead ammunition and fishing tackle in birds and point out the variety of options available to decision-makers seeking to reduce lead poisoning in birds.

Birds can be directly exposed to lead by mistaking lead objects for seeds or grit and purposefully ingesting them, or indirectly exposed by incidentally ingesting lead when consuming the flesh of an animal that has been shot with lead ammunition or otherwise contaminated. Lead’s effects on birds after being absorbed into the body are diverse, including biochemical, histopathological, neurological, and reproductive impacts, and species’ responses can vary.

Voluntary approaches to decreasing the use of lead ammunition and tackle can be as successful as, or more successful than, legislated requirements, and sportsmen in some areas are indicating buy-in by supporting the suggested change. The authors recommend continuing to emphasize stakeholder involvement in efforts to reduce lead exposure in birds, as well as continuing research into lead’s effect on bird populations of concern.

Read the full paper at