Bald eagles dying from lead in hunters’ bullets

CAMDEN CO., N.C. (WTKR/CNN) - Bald eagles are federally protected, but experts say they're dying from bullets in North Carolina.

A male eagle found in Camden County, N.C. is expected to make a full recovery but was weak, dehydrated and had lead poisoning. (WTKR, Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation, CNN)

They're not being shot, but the lead found in hunters' bullets is making its way into their systems.

A male eagle found in Camden County is expected to make a full recovery but was weak, dehydrated and had lead poisoning.

Lou Browning with Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation says 70 to 80 percent of the eagles they treat have high levels of lead in their system, and the effects are devastating.

"Lethargic, it's limp, it may have vision problems, staggering legs not working correctly," Browning said.

This year alone, Browning say there have been nine cases of eagles found with lead poisoning in northeastern North Carolina.

"If they start showing other signs, that there has been so much damage to their system, then ethically you need to put them out of their misery," he said.

Browning says hunters are to blame for the heavy metal showing up their system.

"They're getting most of the lead from scavenging deer carcasses and other carcasses that have been shot and left in the woods," he said.

He says lead bullets used to kill game are killing these symbols of strength and freedom. He's calling on hunters to make a small change that could have a big impact.

"The most direct thing would be to switch - if you're deer hunting for instance - switch to copper bullets instead of lead," Browning said.

Copyright 2020 WTKR via CNN. All rights reserved.