Bald eagles are getting fatal lead poisoning from the most all-American source imaginable
American bald eagle (Shutterstock)

Bald eagles are turning up dead from lead poisoning all across Michigan for a surprising reason.

It doesn't take much lead to sicken or kill a bald eagle, and wildlife rehabilitators say the birds are being poisoned by accidentally ingesting bullets while scavenging carcasses from animals killed by hunters using lead ammunition, reported MLive.

“If you’ve ever seen an eagle that has been poisoned, it’s something you’ll never forget,” said John Buchweitz, nutrition and toxicology section chief at Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. “The animal may go blind. They can develop tremors. They can lose their ability to fly. It’s a sad statement on the truly adverse effects of a chemical, like lead, on an animal.”

America's national symbol were removed from the endangered species list after a then-controversial federal ban on the pesticide DDT nearly killed off the species, which had dwindled to just 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to more than 300,000 bald eagles currently living in the wild, and conservationists are now sounding the alarm on hunting or fishing with lead-based products.

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“We’re going to have to use every available resource to get this out,” said James Manley, executive director of Skegemog Raptor Center. “There’s a lot of steps I think we’re going to have to go through to get enough people on our side where it’s like, okay, let’s quit putting a known toxin into the environment.”

A study published last year found nearly half of bald and golden eagles nationwide tested positive for chronic lead poisoning, and it's the third leading cause of death for the species in Michigan, and research shows the main source is lead ammunition from wild game carcasses and the entrails hunters leave behind from cleaning game in the field.

“Alternatives that are safer for people and wildlife do exist, and it makes sense to elevate the conversation and boost public awareness,” reads the state Department of National Resources webpage.