, Volume 47, Issue 8, pp 858–868 | Cite as

Lead poisoning and other human-related factors cause significant mortality in white-tailed eagles

  • Marja IsomursuEmail author
  • Juhani Koivusaari
  • Torsten Stjernberg
  • Varpu Hirvelä-Koski
  • Eija-Riitta Venäläinen
Research Article


The white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) suffered a severe population decline due to environmental pollutants in the Baltic Sea area ca. 50 years ago but has since been recovering. The main threats for the white-tailed eagle in Finland are now often related to human activities. We examined the human impact on the white-tailed eagle by determining mortality factors of 123 carcasses collected during 2000–2014. Routine necropsy with chemical analyses for lead and mercury were done on all carcasses. We found human-related factors accounting for 60% of the causes of death. The most important of these was lead poisoning (31% of all cases) followed by human-related accidents (e.g. electric power lines and traffic) (24%). The temporal and regional patterns of occurrence of lead poisonings suggested spent lead ammunition as the source. Lead shot was found in the gizzards of some lead-poisoned birds. Scavenging behaviour exposes the white-tailed eagle to lead from spent ammunition.


Disease Finland Lead poisoning Mercury Mortality factors White-tailed eagle 



We want to express our thanks to the people who submitted or reported dead or diseased white-tailed eagles suitable for this study. We warmly thank the competent staff of the Finnish Food Safety Authority, especially Minna Nylund, Perttu Koski, Nina Aalto and Annette Brockmann for their help in post-mortem examinations.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wild and Aquatic Animal Pathology Section, Veterinary Bacteriology and Pathology Research UnitFinnish Food Safety Authority EviraOuluFinland
  2. 2.VaasaFinland
  3. 3.Finnish Museum of Natural HistoryUniversity of HelsinkiUniversity of HelsinkiFinland
  4. 4.Chemistry Research UnitFinnish Food Safety Authority EviraHelsinkiFinland

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