Why Was This Golden Eagle Found In Such Bad Shape?
This is a sad sight - seeing one of nature's majestic creatures be so ill that it's able to easily be picked up when it would normally not allow itself to even be approached. It's a tale of a golden eagle that was found in the wild of Montana with some serious health issues. First, I've never heard of a golden eagle. Then, I was thinking of how many different types of eagles I could name. Outside of the bald eagle, the only ones I could come up with were the iconic band and the football team from Philadelphia. A quick Google search made me realize my lack of eagle knowledge. There's so many I've never heard of: the harpy eagle, white-tailed eagle, wedge-tailed eagle, Philippine eagle, black eagle, booted eagle, short-toed snake eagle.......you get the picture.
A post on the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Facebook page tells of a golden eagle that was reported to MFWP staff after being found in pretty rough shape. It's an interesting story that you can read by clicking on the embedded post or scrolling to read where I've posted it below.
Apparently, lead poisoning is a common occurrence for animals that feed off of other animal parts that are left behind by hunters. The leftover fragments from lead bullets can be ingested by wildlife and cause serious injury or death. That makes sense, but not being a hunter, I had never really thought about that. Hopefully this eagle is back in action before too long and is able to avoid another bout with lead poisoning.
Here's the full story from the Facebook post above:
Unfortunately, not all #TuesdayswithTorrey can be filled with whimsy. On Sunday, I got a call from a member of Backcountry Hunter and Anglers who found this golden eagle trying to hobble away on clenched talons. The eagle was exhausted and underweight, and the person knew almost immediately what the signs pointed to… lead poisoning. A trip to Wild Skies Raptor Center confirmed their suspicion.
This golden eagle lives in a popular hunting area where gut piles and unused animal parts are left behind by successful hunters. Those leftovers are subsequently fed upon by dozens of species, including birds such as magpies, ravens, bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks, Clark’s nutcrackers and other jays, and even some songbirds. The unique digestive system of birds means that even tiny lead fragments can result in high lead levels in the blood. High lead levels can lead to physiological impairment at best and a slow and painful death at worst.
A recent study in the Bitterroot Valley found close to 95% of wintering golden eagles had blood lead levels above what would normally be expected for wild animals. In 8 of those golden eagles, the lead levels were severely elevated. That is just one of many studies all pointing towards the same thing, and as internet arguments play out over muzzle velocities, shot placement, and other minute details, lead-poisoned eagles continue to be frequent patients at raptor rehab facilities across the West.
When we shoot animals with lead bullets, even if we are doing everything right, there is always the potential for lead fragments to be left behind. Hunters and anglers have been on the front lines of conservation efforts since the beginning, and we should be on this one too. For now, myself (and my colleagues) extend a heart-felt “thank you” to those hunters who have stepped up and made the switch to copper ammunition when hunting.