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Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 156, Issue 4, pp 1095–1103 | Cite as

The frequency distribution of lead concentration in feathers, blood, bone, kidney and liver of golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos: insights into the modes of uptake

  • Lukas Jenni
  • Milena M. Madry
  • Thomas Kraemer
  • Jacqueline Kupper
  • Hanspeter Naegeli
  • Hannes Jenny
  • David Jenny
Original Article

Abstract

Several cases of acute lead poisoning of golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos have been documented in the Alps. The question, however, remains how often golden eagles take up lead (once, chronically or episodically) and whether this uptake is in fatal or sublethal amounts. We approached this question by examining the level and frequency distribution of lead concentration in different tissues and in three segments of flight feathers in 41 golden eagles found dead, injured or moribund in the Swiss Alps. The frequency distribution of lead concentration in the blood, liver, kidney, wing coverts and shaft of flight feathers were all right-skewed. The highest values in blood, kidney and liver reached levels typical for acute fatal poisoning. In contrast, the frequency distribution of lead in bones was more symmetrical, but 71 % had bone lead concentrations >10 µg/g, which are considered elevated, and 29 % >20 µg/g, values often observed in cases of lethal poisoning. In 22 % of individuals, only one segment of a flight feather had a high lead concentration, while the other two segments had a low concentration. These findings indicate an episodic intake of lead of various amounts that may be immediately fatal (generating high blood levels) or sublethal. The patterns of lead in flight feathers and in bone suggest a repeated sublethal lead intake by the same individual. Such an episodic lead uptake seems only possible through ingestion of lead particles from carcasses or offal left behind by hunters. This also constitutes a risk to other scavengers, notably to the bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus for which several high bone lead values have been found.

Keywords

Golden eagle Lead poisoning Lead ammunition Lead in feather 

Zusammenfassung

Die Häufigkeitsverteilung von Bleikonzentrationen in Federn, Blut, Knochen, Niere und Leber von Steinadlern Aquila chrysaetos : Einblicke in die Art und Weise der Aufnahme

Mehrere Fälle von akuter Bleivergiftung von Steinadlern Aquila chrysaetos sind aus den Alpen bekannt. Die Frage ist, wie oft Steinadler Blei aufnehmen (einmal, chronisch oder episodisch) und ob dies in letalen oder subletalen Dosen geschieht. Wir untersuchten die Konzentrationen von Blei und ihre Häufigkeitsverteilungen in verschiedenen Geweben und in drei Abschnitten von Flugfedern von 41 Steinadlern, die tot, verletzt oder sterbend in den Schweizer Alpen gefunden wurden. Die Häufigkeitsverteilungen der Bleikonzentrationen in Blut, Leber, Niere, Flügeldeckfedern und dem Kiel von Flugfedern waren alle rechtsschief. Die höchsten Werte in Blut, Leber und Niere erreichten Werte, die typisch für letale Vergiftungen sind. Die Häufigkeitsverteilung der Bleikonzentrationen in Knochen hingegen war eher symmetrisch, wobei 71 % der Individuen Konzentrationen >10 µg/g, die als erhöht gelten, und 29 % Werte >20 µg/g zeigten, wie sie häufig bei letalen Vergiftungen auftreten. Bei 22 % der Individuen zeigte nur einer von drei Kielabschnitten einer Flugfeder erhöhte Bleiwerte, während die anderen beiden Abschnitte niedrige Werte aufwiesen. Diese Befunde legen nahe, dass die Aufnahme von Blei episodisch und in unterschiedlicher, unmittelbar tödlicher oder subletaler Menge erfolgt. Das Muster von Blei in Flugfedern und Knochen zeigt, dass die mehrmalige Aufnahme einer subletalen Menge Blei durch dasselbe Individuum wohl öfter vorkommt. Solch eine episodische Bleiaufnahme findet sehr wahrscheinlich über die Aufnahme von Bleipartikeln in Kadavern oder im Aufbruch von gejagten Tieren statt. Dies ist auch ein Risiko für andere Aasfresser, insbesondere für den Bartgeier Gypaetus barbatus, bei welchem mehrere sehr hohe Bleiwerte in Knochen gefunden wurden.

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank the authorities of the cantonal Fish and Game Departments and the many gamekeepers who helped collect dead and moribund golden eagles. Werner Degonda performed the autopsies in Chur. Veterinarians of the Universities of Berne and Zurich provided additional samples and data, particularly Janne Schöning, Roman Meier, Ulrike Cyrus, Richard Hoop and Jessica Gull. Injured or moribund birds were maintained in bird care stations by Christoph Meier, Erich Widmer, Vreni Mattmann and Andi Lischke. Lorenzo Vinciguerra, Ueli Schneppat and René Heim of the Natural History Museums of St. Gallen, Grisons and Luzern prepared tissue and bone samples of some golden eagles. Enrico Bassi from the Stelvio National Park and Daniel Hegglin, Stiftung Pro Bartgeier, provided data from bones of bearded vultures. Hans Schmid helped to coordinate the project. We thank David Kistler (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) for access to the Microwave Digestion System and Fabian von Kaenel for his help with the ICP-MS measurements.

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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lukas Jenni
    • 1
  • Milena M. Madry
    • 2
  • Thomas Kraemer
    • 2
  • Jacqueline Kupper
    • 3
  • Hanspeter Naegeli
    • 3
  • Hannes Jenny
    • 4
  • David Jenny
    • 1
  1. 1.Swiss Ornithological InstituteSempachSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Forensic Pharmacology and Toxicology, Zurich Institute of Forensic MedicineUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Institute of Veterinary Pharmacology and ToxicologyUniversity of Zürich-VetsuisseZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Fish and Game Department of the Canton of GrisonsChurSwitzerland

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