WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — A veterinarian in Wyoming is asking hunters to take precautions to protect wild birds from lead ammunition.

Vets working with wildlife rescue groups have treated about a dozen wild birds with lead poisoning in the past couple months, Dr. Rebecca Vincent-Sturdivant with Animal Medical Center of Wyoming said. She said lead from ammunition and fishing sinkers are a constant problem for wild birds.

“Other times of the year, we’ll see loons, turkey vultures, mourning doves. Any of the ducks and geese can have it, so the ones that we’re seeing this time of year almost exclusively are getting their lead exposure from scavenging parts that hunters have left behind,” Vincent-Sturdivant said.

The lead remains in the bird’s system. If vets discover it in time, they work to remove it and treat the birds to lower the lead level. It costs thousands of dollars and there’s no guarantee of success.

  • An x-ray shows leads in the stomach of a bald eagle. The eagle did not survive. (Courtesy)
  • An x-ray shows lead in the stomach of a tundra swan. (Courtesy)
  • An x-ray shows lead in the stomach of a young trumpeter swan. (Courtesy)

“We’re seeing eagles that are older with massively high lead levels. Getting into lead gets (birds) in trouble, too, so if (their) mind is not quite where it should be, those are the birds that are scavenging on the side of the road because it’s easy and maybe their reflexes aren’t as good, they’re not getting out of the way of the cars fast enough. So we see a lot of hit-by-car bald eagles in the winter,” Vincent-Sturdivant said.

She asked hunters to consider alternative ammunition that does not contain lead and added there is also another way to reduce the risk.

“If they stick with lead, they can dig a whole deep enough that the scavengers are not gonna dig it up and bury the gut pile instead of leaving it out in the open,” Vincent-Sturdivant said.

Hunting and fishing stores like Al and Bob’s say lead is very common.

“Almost every single bullet you see out there today, with a few exceptions, is going to be lead core with some type of a wrap around the other side,” owner Matt Howell said.

He sells alternative ammunition but said the metals, like copper, are more expensive than lead. The weight and performance of the alternatives are debated among hunters. Fishing sinkers made of lead are also a concern for wild birds. There are alternatives, but they, too, are more expensive. Veterinaries are hopeful more people will consider the other options even with the higher cost.

Al and Bob’s added there are regulations on lead use for hunting on federal lands and some states like California have banned the ammunition for hunting.