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Oklahoma Eagles Poisoned by Lead Shot

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This juvenile Bald Eagle has ingested lead pellets as seen in its x-rays. This juvenile Bald Eagle has ingested lead pellets as seen in its x-rays.
Using lead shot is banned over waterways and on Federal lands. Using lead shot is banned over waterways and on Federal lands.

Chris Howell, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Since the banning of DDT in 1972, the population of bald eagles is on the rise in Oklahoma, but lately many have been showing up at the Tulsa Zoo with a different type of poisoning.

"This bird came in for a broken wing and we've already done a lead level test, we've done the x-rays not only for the fracture of the wing but for that, and to see that we know that we have more than just a fracture," said Dr. Kay Backues, the zoo's staff veterinarian.

Lead shot like this is toxic and works its way up through the food chain. It can be seen in this eagle's digestive tract.  Dr. Backues says she is finding lead poisoning to be a factor in most eagles she is treating.

"They're coming in very ill, sometimes are DOA on arrival or dying shortly after and we're treating them for lead as they walk in the door," said Backues.  "Lead is a very toxic metal and we use it because it's cheap. It ends up in the ground, it ends up on the bottom of ponds, it's ingested by birds, usually by birds that are then preyed upon by larger species like eagles."

Game Warden Travis Garrett keeps watch over many of Oklahoma's 40 pairs of nesting Bald Eagles and enforces the ban on toxic shot along waterways.

"For waterfowl there is no choice, it's going to be non-toxic," Garrett explained.  "As far as going on a dove field, things like that, that's going to be up to the sportsman. If the sportsman wants to step up and maybe help to make a little bit of a difference then he can run steel or another non-toxic shot through his gun.  Before heading to the dove field this year, maybe bring some steel shot, some non-toxic shot to the field with you.  It would help the eagles."

Dr. Backues agrees.

"I would love to see people go, 'I care enough to spend a few extra cents to get non-lead shot wherever possible,'" she said.

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