Lead poisoning in six captive avian species

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Abstract

Red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater), common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus), and eastern screech-owls (Otus asio) were poisoned with a concentration of lead (Pb) acetate in the diet which was increased by 60% each week until half of the birds in each treatment group died; surviving birds and all control birds except screech-owis were then killed by euthanasia. An additional group of mallards was poisoned with Pb shot. The gizzards of mallards poisoned either way usually were stained with bile; some of these birds also had proventricular impaction. Most poisoned birds of the other species were emaciated but lacked other gross lesions caused by Pb poisoning. In birds other than mallards, Pb poisoning could not be diagnosed without histological or hematological examinations or analysis of tissues. Poisoned birds of all six species could be reliably separated from control birds by an increase in the protoporphyrin concentrations in the blood and by a decrease in the activity of delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD) in red blood cells. Hepatic iron (Fe) concentrations varied so much among individual birds that even though median hepatic Fe concentrations increased in poisoned birds, hepatic Fe concentrations were not useful in identifying poisoned birds. Renal intranuclear inclusion bodies occurred in 83% of all birds dying from Pb poisoning. Nephrosis, myocardial necrosis, and arterial fibrinoid necrosis were occasionally present. Median hepatic Pb concentrations varied from 20 ppm (wet wt) in male red-winged blackbirds to 111 ppm in female northern bobwhites. Median renal Pb concentrations varied from 22 ppm in redwinged blackbirds to 190 ppm in female northern bobwhites. Hepatic and renal Pb concentrations varied substantially among birds within each species. Median hepatic and renal Pb concentrations of birds that died were not statistically different (p > 0.05) from those of birds that were killed. Lead shot and Pb acetate affected mallards similarly.