Protecting birds from lead, and other pollutants

Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 6:02 PM EDT
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HINTON, W.Va. (WVVA) - Three Rivers Avian Center in Hinton recently took in a red shouldered hawk. The center’s executive director Wendy Perrone says it was found in Cabell County with gunshot wounds, possibly from a shotgun.

The fragments broke the left humorous and lodged lead into the bird’s bone.

Since the lead didn’t make it to the digestive tract or the lymphatic system, there is the possibility that the body will isolate the lead.

However, the raptor still has high amounts of the toxin in his body.

“We did do a lead test, and he came in at ten point two micrograms per deciliter, which is not unexpected for a larger hawk at this time of year, because they are still scavenging a lot,” said Perrone.

One of the sources of food for raptors are carcasses on the side of the road. These dead animals can have lead in their systems. Then, this lead is transferred over to the raptors once they feed on the carcasses.

So the question is: where did the lead come from to begin with?

“Unfortunately with our state’s history, there’s been a lot of fighting with gunshots across all sorts of water ways, so there is lead fragments in the mud and muck that have been there for quite a long time,” said Perrone.

Perrone says when birds are poisoned by lead, it’s almost like they’re drunk. It becomes difficult for them fly and slows their reflexes.

If you are driving and see a bird eating on the side of the road, slow down to avoid harming it. Also, trash can be detrimental for wildlife. This includes leftover food and wrappers.

“It’s a trap. It baits small animals to come the road, which then brings the scavengers to the road to eat,” said Perrone.

Leftover cigarette butts are also bad for birds.

“We’ve actually had nests turned in, we actually carried one around for years, it was made of nothing but cigarette butts and one long piece of blue string from a tarp,” said Perrone.

One final tip is to make sure to clean up extra fishing lines or lead weights when you’re out boating.

“Studies have shown that it takes over 800 years for fishing line to break down in the wild. It’s treated to resist UV light, so it just sits there, and we have seen so many birds, particularly owls, king fishers and that sort of thing, tangled up in fishing line, and it will kill them,” said Perrone.