From sport hunting to breeding success: Patterns of lead ammunition ingestion and its effects on an endangered raptor

Publication Year:

Lead is highly toxic for wildlife, with pernicious consequences especially in long-lived predators. The causes of lead ammunition ingestion in Bonelli's eagle (Aquila fasciata) and its effects on breeding success were studied in one of the most important populations of this endangered species in Europe. Regurgitated pellets belonging to different pairs from 2004 to 2014 were analyzed, both in the breeding (1363 pellets from 12 territories) and non-breeding (172 pellets from 9 territories) seasons. From these territories, 57 molted feathers to study lead contamination were analyzed, and breeding success was monitored for 41 breeding attempts. The occurrence of lead shots in pellets was detected using X-ray photographs. Pellets were also used to describe eagle diet. Lead shots in pellets were present in 83.3% of the territories. The frequency of occurrence of lead shots in pellets (2.81% in spring and 1.31% in autumn) was primarily related to the consumption of red-legged partridge in the breeding season (when partridges are hunted from blinds using calling lures), and secondarily to rabbit consumption in the non-breeding season (coinciding with the main hunting season). Thus, our results indicate that injured small-game were the main source of lead contamination in the Bonelli's eagle. For the first time for a raptor species, a positive relationship between the frequency of occurrence of lead shots in pellets and lead concentration in eagles' feathers has been documented. Lead concentration in feathers (mean ± SD: 816 ± 426 μg kg− 1, with no sex-related differences) was high for a species that rarely eats carrion or aquatic birds (the main prey-related lead source for raptors). This had negative effects on breeding success, which could jeopardize Bonelli's eagles in other European populations that are sustained by juvenile dispersal from the study population. Our work shows that some game modalities pose a potential threat to endangered raptors. Keywords: Aquila fasciata, Feather, Lead contamination, Reproduction, Small-game hunting.

Publication Title:

Science of The Total Environment

Item Type:
Journal Article

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