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Bald eagles threatened by lead in bullets, lures

Advocates worried about birds eating lead
20160220 eagle and nest c Rick McMeechan_1.jpg
Posted at 4:59 PM, Jan 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 09:30:04-05

CLEVELAND — To say Tim Jasinski likes birds would be an understatement.

“I love waterfowl, water birds, gulls, ducks, geese, swans. Canada Goose are probably one of my favorites. I love Canada Geese,” Jasinski said. “My all-time favorite bird is probably the Great Black Backed Gull.”

The self-described “bird nerd” works at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center.

“They’re all so cool it’s hard to pick a favorite but, certainly, the water birds are my jam,” he said.

That is why he was carefully caring for an injured loon at the center.

“He’s not happy,” Jasinski said as he tossed several scoops of fish in to a float cage. The loon vocalized; sending echoes of his tremolo through the center’s basement.

“So, all of our patients here at the center don’t want to be here," Jasinski said. "You know, they’re wild animals and they belong in the wild and they don’t want to be in captivity.”

The center treats a range of birds for all kinds of issues and injuries from bumps and broken wings to more serious issues.

“Lead poisoning is really tricky and it is not easily fixed,” Jasinski said. “There are a lot of medicines you have to do to try and help them.”

Recently, Jasinski said experts in his field have seen more birds suffering from lead poisoning — birds like bald eagles and waterfowl. The birds eat meat with lead shot fragments in it, or swallow fishing lures or discarded bullets.

“It is really, really, bad for them. And, unfortunately, not a lot of them are able to be saved. But, you do your best to try and help them when you can, you know?” he said. “It really depends on how they ate the lead or how it is ingested. But, typically, a small amount of lead is lethal.”

Jasinski said things need to change.

“We know the dangers that it causes," he said. "So, it’d be nice to switch over to non-lead ammunition.”

But, that non-lead ammunition isn’t always feasible.

“We have been conscious of that and have been working toward better things. A lot of it is cost prohibitive though,” said Dennis Malloy.

Malloy is a wildlife biologist with Whitetails Unlimited.

He’s been a hunter and fisherman most of his life.

“When a hawk dies or somebody sees an eagle that is injured, it seems to make the news a little more than in past years,” Malloy said.

Just because it’s been seen more doesn’t mean more birds are being sickened or dying from lead, according to Malloy.

“I think we’re seeing it more, and we have a lot more people that have their eyes on some of these animals in limited habitats," he said.

Malloy tied that directly to efforts from outdoorsmen and support groups for financially supporting efforts to reinvigorate animal populations like whitetail deer, bald and golden eagles, and hawks.

“We voluntarily pay a tax on every bullet, on every fishing lure, on every little bit of motorboat gas, on every shotgun we buy,” Malloy said. “There’s an excise tax from the government that’s 10 or 11 percent, self-tax on everything right from the factory.”

He’s happy to pay that money to support Ohio wildlife.

“That money goes back to the state game agencies to pay for conservation programs,” he said. “Not just for animals that you hunt and fish, but for all animals.”

Right now, California is the only state that prohibits lead bullets in all hunting. Non-lead birdshot is recommended for waterfowl hunters across the country.

So far in 2020, the Lake Erie Science and Nature Center has not treated any birds with lead poisoning.