A Review and Assessment of Spent Lead Ammunition and Its Exposure and Effects to Scavenging Birds in the United States

Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series (RECT, volume 237)


There are multiple sources of lead in the environment. However, scientific evidence points to spent lead ammunition as the most frequent cause of lead exposure and poisoning in scavenging birds in the United States. Despite the ban on its use for waterfowl hunting, lead ammunition is still widely used for other hunting and shooting activities. Therefore, it can remain on the landscape in carcasses not retrieved and in discarded offal piles. Carcasses and gut piles can be attractive food sources to scavenging birds that can ingest bullet fragments or shot while feeding. Scavenging birds may be particularly vulnerable to exposure and effects of lead due to their foraging strategies and food preferences, physiological processes that facilitate the absorption of lead, and demographic traits. Numerous lines of evidence support ammunition as the source of exposure in the majority of lead poisoned scavenging birds and include the recovery of ingested lead fragments or shot from exposed birds, observations of birds feeding on contaminated carcasses, isotopic signatures of lead in tissue that match that found in ammunition, patterns of mortality coincident with hunting seasons, and the lack of abundant evidence for other lead sources. Lead can be replaced in ammunition by alternative metals that are currently available and present limited environmental threats.


Lead Ammunition Bird Poisoning metals 



We thank Drs. John Elliott, Grainger Hunt, Philip Smith, Noel Snyder, Scott Wright, and three anonymous reviewers for thoughtful and constructive reviews of draft versions of this document; Steven Choy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for editorial and technical support; and Dr. Chris Franson, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, for providing technical expertise.

Disclaimer The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceFalls ChurchUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceMadisonUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceCrab Orchard National Wildlife RefugeMarionUSA

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