WASHINGTON (AP) — Researchers report harmful levels of toxic lead were found in the bones of 46% of bald eagles sampled in 38 states.
Similar rates of lead exposure were found in golden eagles, according to their study Thursday in the journal Science.
Scientists say the raptors likely consumed carrion or prey contaminated by lead from ammunition or fishing tackle.
Bald eagles are one of America’s most celebrated conservation success stories. But scientists say that high lead levels still suppress eagle population growth and reduce their ability to withstand future challenges, such as climate change and infectious diseases.
The federal government says there are more than 300,000 bald eagles living in the wild.
In 2019, California became the first state in the country to ban lead bullets for hunting. However, the study's authors say educating hunters about the effects of lead ammunition may be better than bans.
“The hunting community remains mostly unaware,” Vincent Slabe, a wildlife biologist at the nonprofit Conservation Science Global, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "In the hunter education programs I’ve done, they’re really receptive to this issue.”