Lead poisoning and other human-related factors cause significant mortality in white-tailed eagles

Ambio. 2018 Dec;47(8):858-868. doi: 10.1007/s13280-018-1052-9. Epub 2018 Mar 29.


The white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) suffered a severe population decline due to environmental pollutants in the Baltic Sea area ca. 50 years ago but has since been recovering. The main threats for the white-tailed eagle in Finland are now often related to human activities. We examined the human impact on the white-tailed eagle by determining mortality factors of 123 carcasses collected during 2000-2014. Routine necropsy with chemical analyses for lead and mercury were done on all carcasses. We found human-related factors accounting for 60% of the causes of death. The most important of these was lead poisoning (31% of all cases) followed by human-related accidents (e.g. electric power lines and traffic) (24%). The temporal and regional patterns of occurrence of lead poisonings suggested spent lead ammunition as the source. Lead shot was found in the gizzards of some lead-poisoned birds. Scavenging behaviour exposes the white-tailed eagle to lead from spent ammunition.

Keywords: Disease; Finland; Lead poisoning; Mercury; Mortality factors; White-tailed eagle.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Automobile Driving
  • Eagles*
  • Electric Injuries / etiology
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Finland
  • Firearms
  • Human Activities*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / chemistry
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Lead Poisoning / mortality*
  • Lead Poisoning / veterinary*
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Liver / pathology
  • Mercury Poisoning / mortality
  • Mercury Poisoning / veterinary
  • Mortality
  • Power Plants
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / veterinary


  • Environmental Pollutants