Metals and Organohalogen Contaminants in Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) from Ontario, 1991–2008

  • P. A. MartinEmail author
  • K. D. Hughes
  • G. D. Campbell
  • J. L. Shutt


We examined the degree of exposure of lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), and several organohalogen contaminants and its potential impact on survival of bald eagles in Ontario from 1991 to 2008. Overall, results for 43 dead or dying bald eagles collected in the province indicate that 23% (10/43) of birds died of Pb poisoning and 9% (4/43) died of suspected Hg poisoning. Pb poisoning was diagnosed based on exceedances of toxicity thresholds in liver and kidney and supported by clinical observations, necropsy results, and histology findings when available. Evidence for Hg poisoning in eagles was limited; however, Hg concentrations exceeded the toxicity threshold in kidney. Pb concentrations ranged widely in liver and kidney. Total Hg concentrations were relatively higher in kidney compared with liver and were significantly correlated with selenium (Se) concentrations in both tissues. Concentrations of p,pʹ-DDE and sum PCBs in livers of 12 bald eagles collected from 2001 to 2004 were likely below concentrations associated with adverse effects. Hepatic concentrations of total polybrominated diphenyl ethers were generally higher in birds collected from southern Ontario compared with northern Ontario. Potential impacts of exposure to these flame retardants and others are not known. Elevated metal exposure appears to influence survivorship and may affect the recovery of bald eagles in the province, particularly in southern Ontario and along the Great Lakes where a disproportionate number of poisoned eagles were collected. Increased efforts are needed to identify sources of exposure and develop measures to reduce metal exposure in this top predator.



The authors thank the staff at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Bird Studies Canada, and the public who submitted bald eagle carcasses to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at the University of Guelph for necropsy. They also thank Nick Schrier of the Animal Health Laboratory (Laboratory Services Division) at the University of Guelph for his help accessing records pertaining to chemical analyses of tissues in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. A. Martin
    • 1
    Email author
  • K. D. Hughes
    • 2
  • G. D. Campbell
    • 3
  • J. L. Shutt
    • 4
  1. 1.Environment and Climate Change CanadaBurlingtonCanada
  2. 2.Broadwing Biological ConsultingPickeringCanada
  3. 3.Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, Ontario Veterinary CollegeUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  4. 4.Environment and Climate Change CanadaOttawaCanada

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