Hunters, Anglers Can Protect Our Birds

Hunters, Anglers Can Protect Our Birds

I’ve written about the success eagles and other raptors have had with rebounding populations here in The Last Green Valley and nationwide. While the successes are to be celebrated, there are still two threats that are not allowing raptors and waterfowl to thrive the way they could. Lead poisoning and entanglements from abandoned fishing tackle are a growing concern among wildlife enthusiasts and those who help rehabilitate sick and injured birds. This includes lead poisoning caused by ingesting lead from ammunition and fishing weights, and entanglement caused by carelessly discarded nylon monofilament fishing line.

The Last Green Valley, Inc. has partnered with Mary-Beth Kaiser and her volunteers from Horizon Wings Raptor Rehabilitation and Education Center in Ashford for many programs. It was during one of the Horizon Wings programs that Mary-Beth first introduced to me the issue of lead poisoning in eagles and other birds, such as vultures and loons.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include a general listlessness, inability to maintain balance, refusal to eat, overall weakness, and lack of muscle coordination. A severe case of lead poisoning can cause blindness, convulsions and death. Treatment options for severe lead poisoning are limited and often unsuccessful.

Eagles catch, steal and scavenge for their food, while vultures are “natures undertakers,” relying on dead animals for their food. In an email communication with Mary-Beth she indicated that “the biggest cause seems to be led shot found in carcasses.” She also said eating a fish with a lead weight in it is problematic. I was surprised to learn that a piece of lead no bigger than a grain of rice is enough to kill an eagle.

In many cases, eagles found suffering from lead poisoning are sent to the Wildlife Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton, Massachusetts. The clinic has been conducting an ongoing study of the prevalence of lead poisoning in aquatic birds, particularly the common loon. The clinic’s website is a great source of information about lead poisoning in wildlife. You can find it at

The National Wildlife Foundation also has focused on removing lead from the environment. As it notes, hunters and anglers are among the most ardent conservationists and help fund wildlife conservation through their licenses and fees. However, “lead ammunition and tackle can poison non-target species like bald eagles scavenging gut piles and common loons ingesting lost lead sinkers. Additionally, lead fragments can be found in game meat that hunters bring home to their families.”

The federation promotes the use of non-lead shot, bullets and tackle as accurate and affordable high-performance alternatives to traditional lead ammunition and tackle. “By choosing to adopt lead-free alternatives, hunters and anglers can ensure cleaner wild game and fewer impacts on nongame wildlife,” it states.

You can learn more

On a personal note, this past Christmas I gifted a variety of fishing tackle to my grand nephews and easily found non-lead sinkers at several outfitter stores. I will say the lead varieties were still available, but the non-lead varieties were affordable and easy to find.

I urge readers who hunt and fish to consider “getting the lead out” when it comes to your choice of shot and fishing tackle. Our raptor birds and waterfowl will appreciate it!

The second threat to our raptors and waterfowl is monofilament fishing line that has not been carefully disposed or recycled and ends up ensnaring birds who hunt and live in our region’s waters. Mary-Beth and the Horizon Wings volunteers have rescued many birds who have been entangled, including a barred owl rescued at Old Furnace State Park in Killingly and a ring-billed gull found by a paddler at Alexander Lake in Dayville. The gull was not only tangled in monofilament fishing line, but also had multiple hooks from a lure stuck in its beak and wing. This is a simple reminder to please pick up your fishing line and tackle, as when left in the environment it can have devastating effects on our wildlife.

On May 27th CT WFSB Channel 3 posted a story about the problem of fishing line and the death of an osprey as a result of entanglement. It can be found at:

In recent years community efforts have been in place to install recycling receptacles for monofilament fishing line at ocean shoreline boat launches and some river, lake and pond locations.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment (CT DEEP) Wildlife Division has installed fishing line recycling containers at several state boat launches in Connecticut. I have seen these simple to construct and install recycling containers. They are made of PVC tubing and are constructed in a way for easy disposal to keep the line from getting out of the container while also providing easy access for those removing the line for recycling. Here is a link to the CT DEEP website listing the fishing line recycling locations:

Connecticut Audubon has also helped in this effort and provides a list of their locations with fishing line recycling containers on their website:

The fishing line receptacles are easy to build and there are YouTube videos available for learning how, as well as simple instructions. I found several via an internet search and have provided a link to one.

It is good to see efforts underway to protect our birds from the dangers of lead poisoning and monofilament fishing line. If you are a hunter and/or angler, I hope you’ll consider purchasing non-lead shot and fishing weights and make a concerted effort to remove and recycle your fishing line. Our amazing birds, from loons to eagles, will benefit from this simple act.

We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll join me and others as we work together to care for it, enjoy it, and pass it on.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 860-774-3300 or

Exploring The Last Green Valley, Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the following article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.


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