Recent lab results show a bald eagle that died in Glacier National Park in February died from lead poisoning. The news comes about two weeks after Yellowstone National Park reported a golden eagle found there in December also died from lead poisoning.
A necropsy for the immature female bald eagle found the bird in Glacier was emaciated, and showed other signs of lead poisoning, says park spokesperson Lauren Alley.
"A lot of times they can stop eating, which makes it difficult for them to hunt, so they become very emaciated because they aren’t able to find those food sources."
A group of skiers found the dead eagle and reported it to park staff. A biologist saw no obvious signs of trauma, like a gunshot wound, so it was sent to a lab.
Alley says it’s possible it could have died from scavenging on carcasses outside the park. Lead is naturally occurring but is also used in lead fishing sinkers and hunting ammunition. While lead fishing tackle and hunting aren’t allowed in Glacier, eagles move outside of the park’s boundaries.
Both bald and golden eagles are federally protected, which prohibits poisoning the birds. Alley says that while bald eagles are no longer an endangered species they still play an important ecological role.
"If folks do see something that seems strange — if they see wildlife acting strange or if they encounter a dead eagle in the park — it’s really important to report it because it informs all of the scientific work that we do, tracking the health of different species."
In 2012 in Glacier, a golden eagle died from lead poisoning and its carcass was found in the same area in the park.