Acute and Chronic Lead Exposure in Four Avian Scavenger Species in Switzerland

  • Kathrin GanzEmail author
  • Lukas Jenni
  • Milena M. Madry
  • Thomas Kraemer
  • Hannes Jenny
  • David Jenny


Despite irrefutable evidence of its negative impact on animal behaviour and physiology, lethal and sublethal lead poisoning of wildlife is still persistent and widespread. For scavenging birds, ingestion of ammunition, or fragments thereof, is the major exposure route. In this study, we examined the occurrence of lead in four avian scavengers of Switzerland and how it differs between species, regions, and age of the bird. We measured lead concentration in liver and bone of the two main alpine avian scavengers (golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos and bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus) over the entire area of the Swiss Alps and two of the main avian scavengers occurring in the lowlands of Switzerland (red kite Milvus milvus and common raven Corvus corax). Of those four species, only the bearded vulture is an obligate scavenger. We found that lead burdens in the two alpine avian scavengers were higher than those found for the same species elsewhere in Europe or North America and reached levels compatible with acute poisoning, whereas lead burdens of the two lowland avian scavengers seemed to be lower. Several golden eagles, but only one red kite with abnormally high bone lead concentrations were found. In all four species, a substantial proportion of birds had elevated levels which presumably represent recent (liver lead levels) or past (bone lead levels) uptake of sublethal doses of lead.



The authors thank Fabian von Kaenel for his help with the ICP-MS measurements. The authors thank everyone that provided samples for this study. Tissue samples of carcasses were kindly provided by the Vetsuisse Faculties Bern (FIWI; Marie-Pierre Ryser, Mirjam Pewsner, Roman Meier) and Zurich (Barbara Vogel), the authorities of the Cantonal Fish and Game Department of the Grisons (Werner Degonda, Gieri Derungs) and other Cantonal Fish and Game Departments, many gamekeepers, various bird care stations (Andi Lischke, Berg am Irchel; Vreni Mattman, Sempach; Michel Beaud, Fribourg; Erich Widmer, St. Gallenkappel; Ulrike Cyrus, Wildstation Landshut; Christoph Meier, Malans) and the Valais Field Station of the Swiss Ornithological Institute. Enrico Bassi from the Stelvio National Park and Daniel Hegglin, Stiftung Pro Bartgeier, provided data from bones of bearded vultures. Lorenzo Vinciguerra, Ueli Schneppat and René Heim of the Natural History Museums of St. Gallen, Grisons and Lucerne, prepared bone samples of some golden eagles and bearded vultures. Most red kite samples were provided by Patrick Scherler and Martin Grüebler. They also thank Gabriele Hilke Peter, Swiss Ornithological Institute, for preparing the maps.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Swiss Ornithological InstituteSempachSwitzerland
  2. 2.Center for Forensic Hair Analytics, Zurich Institute of Forensic MedicineUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Forensic Pharmacology and Toxicology, Zurich Institute of Forensic MedicineUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Fish and Game DepartmentCanton of GrisonsChurSwitzerland

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