Lead Poisoning in Birds
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2023 Update

Working for a Future Rich in Healthy Wildlife Populations

The magnitude of the problem for birds has only come into focus in the last 10 years or so. Please read through the information we have provided on this page and watch the videos. Responsible hunting and fishing is a critical link in chain of maintaining healthy raptor populations and wild animal populations in general. Treating lead poisoned birds is a long, expensive and heart breaking process. We endorse the use of non-lead ammunition for hunting.

The Problem: Bullet Fragmentation

The bullet on the right is made from solid copper. The bullet on the left  is made of lead and shows how it can fragment into many small pieces after entering an animal's body. Many fragments are too small to feel with your teeth should you accidentally eat them in a burger or steak from an animal shot with lead.  Additionally, the force of the bullet creates within the body of the animal, an instantaneous pressurized ballooning cavity in the body tissues which collapses instantly and can force bullet fragments away from the wound channel. Sometimes quite a distance. These often leave bruising which hunters remove during the butchering process. BUT SOMETIMES bullet fragments do not leave any trace at all of where they have migrated. These are a threat to the health of anyone, especially children who are 15 times as sensitive to lead poisoning as adults are. 

The health effects of lead upon birds (and other wildlife) are the same as on humans. Predatory birds injest lead by scavenging from gut piles left in the woods and from the carcasses of shot animals who have escaped only to die in the woods.

There is also another path of lead poisoning to birds like Eagles and Ospreys which are fish hunters. The dangers of using lead shot over water when hunting waterfowl is well documented. But people have also been using lead sinkers and shot weights when fishing for a very long time and those sources of lead find their way into the aquatic based predator diet when they eat fish who have swallowed lead tackle or shot when escaping from a hook or by picking it up when scavenging in the muck of riverbeds.

Even if the bird is not killed outright, it can become dibilitated and subject to accidental death from things like collisions or b disease. A dead raptor in the woods is just another source of lead poisoing to the next animal that scavenges it like racoons or opossums. Vultures are especially vulnerable because they scavenge everything from dead deer to fish. 

Read John McCoy's thoughtful article (March 10, 2018)  from the

"Why Don't We All Switch to Non-Lead Ammunition"

From the Center for Disease Control (CDC)  "Lead Levels in Children Fact Sheet"

From the Department of Natural Resource Ecology
and Management, Iowa State University   "Lead and Wildlife"
This is an fairly in depth look at the problem written in laymans' terms.

An excellent video by Anthony Prieto
 "The Non-Lead Hunter" - by Anthony Prieto (copyright @ 2012 Anthony Prieto)


Hunting with Non-lead is dedicated to promoting hunting and wildlife conservation through the use of non-lead ammunition.
We are hunters and wildlife biologists who recognize the common ground between hunting and wildlife conservation.
It is our mission to promote the positive contributions of hunting and the use of non-lead ammunition by providing accurate information
and resources to hunters and wildlife managers.



Print article from the New York Times
There is a short video on down the page and entitled "The Impact of a Single Elk Carcass"
Published Nov 24, 2018
2016 Report: US Fish and Wildlife Service

A Review and Assessment of Spent Lead Ammunition
 and Its Exposure and Effects to Scavenging Birds in the United States

Nancy H. Golden , Sarah E. Warner , and Michael J. Coffey

Papers From Research Gate

Impacts of Lead Ammunition om Wildlife, The Environment, and Human
Health – A LITERATURE REVIEW AND IMPLICATIONS FOR MINNESOTA at http://www.researchgate.net

Effects of lead contamination at a former shooting range

Effects of lead contamination on Turkey Vultures in California

Effects of lead contamination in Bald Eagles

The persistent problem of  lead poisoning in birds from ammunition and fishing tackle

2015 Paper: From Scientists  at West Virginia University,
Virginia Polytechnical University, Michigan State University
and the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station
Shannon Behmke, Jesse Fallon, Adam E. Duerr, Andreas Lehner, John Buchweitz, Todd Katzner