America's bald eagles aren't being shot, but bullets are killing them. It's an unintentional side effect of hunters going after deer and other animals with lead bullets, striking the creature, but then losing sight of it as it runs away. Bald eagles who consume the carcass end up suffering from lead poisoning, with often fatal results, reports CNN. That's per the Cape Fear Raptor Center, which says that 80% of eagles euthanized since November had been poisoned by lead. And the North Carolina facility says it has seen seven poisoned eagles in just the past month. In a Feb. 4 Facebook post, it described one such bald eagle, "a large hen bird with a brood patch. That means (she) was getting a nest ready." She was being treated with chelation, which can remove heavy metals from the blood.
The University of Minnesota's Raptor Center reports similar stats, saying as many as 25% of the 110 or so bald eagles it sees annually with lead in their blood have levels high enough to be considered lead poisoning. Most die or are euthanized. "Hunters in no way, shape, or form intentionally try to kill an eagle," says Dr. Joni Shimp, who heads up the Cape Fear Raptor Center. But the lead poisoning they unknowingly contribute to can mess with eagles' judgment and ability to quickly lift off the ground, causing more of them to be hit by cars, she says. The solution: not do away with hunting, but with the lead bullets, per Shimp, who recommends copper bullets as the preferred, albeit pricier, replacement. The fish in eagles' diets isn't always safe either: The American Eagle Foundation notes that lead is also regularly used in fishing tackle. (Read more bald eagle stories.)