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California Condors Still At Risk Of Lead Poisoning

Terra Kelly / UC Davis

California condors, the largest flying bird in North America, are recovering from the brink of extinction, but threats of lead poisoning persist.

Terra Kelly / UC Davis

A new study shows the threat of lead poisoning in California condors is particularly acute for older, more independent birds.

The UC Davis study looked at re-introduced condors from 1997 to 2011.  It found 62 to 91 percent had elevated blood lead levels in any given year from eating animals killed by lead ammunition. This was despite regular food given to young condors at release sites and a 2008 law banning lead hunting ammunition in their range. 

“They’re increasing their range. They’re finding food to feed on that’s further away from release sites," says principal investigator Christine Johnson, a professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. "So the more they forage on their own, the more they encounter lead.”

Last year’s law banning lead hunting ammunition statewide will be phased in by 2019. The study could have implications for other scavenging birds and animals.