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Bald eagles are dying from lead poisoning at alarming rates

Posted at 4:06 PM, Feb 20, 2018

The American Bald Eagle, a federally protected bird once considered endangered, is facing a new threat.

Conservationists say the birds are being poisoned, and the number of cases are rising — and some worry the problem will not slow down.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Interiorlifted a ban on hunting with lead bullets on wildlife refuges. However, it's still illegal to use lead ammo to hunt waterfowl.

Many hunters say they use lead ammunition because it is heavier than steel or copper, meaning the bullet reaches the target more accurately. Lead ammo is also cheaper than steel or copper.

Betsy Finch is the manager of the Fontenelle Forest Raptor Recovery, which holds dozens of birds of all kinds that need help until they are well enough to be freed or put to rest. She can easily tell when an eagle has lead poisoning.

"Inability to stand, convulsions, head tremors, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal distress — because lead paralyzes the gut, so they can't digest food, dehydration," Finch said.

The start of 2018 has been hard for Finch, putting her time and energy into sometimes a losing effort.

"Because there are others that need our help," she said.

While she hopes hunters will think twice before firing off their rifles with lead bullets, she doesn't blame all hunters for the rising amounts of lead poisoning. Finch says it's often the hunter who are are the ones who find the sick eagles and bring them to the recovery center.