Contaminant Hazard: Lead Poisoning


  • Promote greater public awareness of the issue of lead in the environment.
  • Prevent new sources of bird-accessible lead from being put into the environment.

Conservation Concern: Lead primarily affects the neurological system; typically impairing birds' ability to fly or walk, decreasing appetite and potentially affecting reproduction if the bird survives the initial lead exposure. The primary source of lead in the environment as it relates to birds (mostly upland game birds, waterfowl, waterbirds and raptors) is from the recreational use of lead in fishing sinkers, and jigs as well as lead shot and bullets used in hunting. High densities of lead shotgun pellets have been found within the fall zone of shooting ranges as well as in commonly used upland game bird and waterfowl hunting areasliv. Many upland game birds and waterbirds, such as Common Loons and Trumpeter Swans, ingest lead directly to be used as grit because they cannot discern a lead fragment from a small pebble. Similarly, raptors can ingest lead shot fragments while consuming gut piles or carrion.

Certain areas, such as National Parks, are now established as lead free zones and various regulations have been developed to restrict the recreational use of lead. Lead shot was banned for use in hunting waterfowl, nationwide, since 1991, yet led shot still persists in the environment. Likewise, fish and wildlife managers continue to work with the hunting and fishing industry to create affordable alternatives to lead. Though there has been progress made in the recent past to deal with the source of lead, much work remains to be done about the existing stores of spent shot and sunken tackle that currently exist in the environment.

Conservation Strategy: It is now well understood that lead in the environment, especially in easily accessible forms such as sinkers and shot fragments are detrimental to a wide variety of wildlife. Many efforts to reduce the source of lead have been made and are continuing within the fishing and hunting industry. The American Fisheries Society's action statement on lead includes: advocating to phase out lead-based sinkers and jigheads less than 2.5 cm - with a goal of complete elimination; reducing the economical and social barriers to non-toxic fishing tackle development; supporting efforts to promote greater public awareness in understanding the consequences of lead exposure to wildlife; and emphasizing the potential gains in environmental quality from the use of lead-free fishing

A continued dialogue with users and associated industries needs to remain the forefront of efforts to reduce the amount of lead shot in the environment. Increased education and outreach should flow both ways, allowing hunters to express their constructive concerns about the overall effects of regulation, the cost of alternatives, and the differences in ammunition performance.

Conservation Actions: Lead

  • Work with hunting and fishing organizations and the allied industries
  • Promote the use of existing economical alternatives to lead
  • Host lead free shooting events
  • Link to resource: Nontoxic Shot Regulations for Hunting Waterfowl
  • Put out press releases prior to upland game bird hunting season and the peak of fishing season
  • Establish lead free fishing and hunting zones in the metro area
  • Employ a balanced mix of both regulatory and voluntary incentives
  • Face the cultural and social misunderstandings about hunting with non-lead ammunitions through continued two-way dialogue and open communication
Copyright  2015 National Audubon Society, Inc