Lead poisoning and heavy metal exposure of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) from the European Alps

Abstract

Lead poisoning and organ levels of the non-essential heavy metals lead, cadmium and mercury of seven free-ranging golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) from the European Alps, and of one 23-year-old captive golden eagle are reported. All birds were found dead or moribund during the years 2000 and 2001 in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. One golden eagle from Switzerland with extraordinarily high lead residues in its liver and kidney was clearly identified as lethally lead poisoned. Another bird from the same region was found still alive and died in a wildlife rehabilitation center, showing lead residues in its organs known for acute lead poisoning with detrimental physiological effects, such as nervous disorders and the inhibition of the hemoglobine synthesis. Concentrations of cadmium, mercury and lead residues in the organs of the other five free-ranging birds, and in the long-lived captive golden eagle, were low and represent the natural background levels in birds of prey of the terrestrial food web. This is the first published report of lead poisoning in golden eagles from Switzerland. Sources for lead poisoning in golden eagles in the Alpine region are discussed.

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Acknowledgments

This study was financed by a grant for the Ph.D. thesis of N.K. by the Nachwuchsförderung Berlin (NaföG) and of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). We wish to thank all people, which found the golden eagles in the fields or conducted the necropsy of the birds and providing of detailed data and information about each specimen. Furthermore we are grateful two anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Norbert Kenntner.

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Communicated by F. Bairlein.

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Kenntner, N., Crettenand, Y., Fünfstück, HJ. et al. Lead poisoning and heavy metal exposure of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) from the European Alps. J Ornithol 148, 173–177 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-006-0115-z

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Keywords

  • Aquila chrysaetos
  • Cadmium
  • Golden eagle
  • Lead poisoning
  • Mercury