Original Article

Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 148, Issue 2, pp 173-177

First online:

Lead poisoning and heavy metal exposure of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) from the European Alps

  • Norbert KenntnerAffiliated withLeibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research Email author 
  • , Yvon CrettenandAffiliated withGame, Fishery and Wildlife Service, Canton of Valais
  • , Hans-Joachim FünfstückAffiliated withBavarian Environmental Agency/Bird Protection Station Garmisch-Partenkirchen
  • , Martin JanovskyAffiliated withCenter for Fish and Wildlife Health, Institute of Animal Pathology, University of BerneOffice of the Tyrolean Government
  • , Frieda TataruchAffiliated withResearch Institute of Wildlife Ecology, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna

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Lead poisoning and organ levels of the non-essential heavy metals lead, cadmium and mercury of seven free-ranging golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) from the European Alps, and of one 23-year-old captive golden eagle are reported. All birds were found dead or moribund during the years 2000 and 2001 in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. One golden eagle from Switzerland with extraordinarily high lead residues in its liver and kidney was clearly identified as lethally lead poisoned. Another bird from the same region was found still alive and died in a wildlife rehabilitation center, showing lead residues in its organs known for acute lead poisoning with detrimental physiological effects, such as nervous disorders and the inhibition of the hemoglobine synthesis. Concentrations of cadmium, mercury and lead residues in the organs of the other five free-ranging birds, and in the long-lived captive golden eagle, were low and represent the natural background levels in birds of prey of the terrestrial food web. This is the first published report of lead poisoning in golden eagles from Switzerland. Sources for lead poisoning in golden eagles in the Alpine region are discussed.


Aquila chrysaetos Cadmium Golden eagle Lead poisoning Mercury