Eagles Face Environmental Threats From Wind Farms, Illegal Hunting, and Lead Poisoning

by TK Sanders

An American wind energy company pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to the death of at least 150 bald and golden eagles. According to Reuters, ESI Energy Inc., a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc., will spend over $27 million in order to prevent future deaths; most of which stemmed from turbine blades hacking the great birds mid-flight.

On Thursday, ESI Energy entered a plea agreement for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the U.S. Justice Department said. Federal law strictly prohibits the killing or harming of bald eagles in this country.

According to court documents, most of the eagles killed were golden eagles. But some were bald eagles — the symbol of the United States government. Afghanistan, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, and Scotland all use the golden eagle as a symbol of their respective governments.

Conservationists removed the bald eagle from the endangered species list in 2007 after decades of trying to rebuild the population. Many bald eagles died around the World War II era due to insecticide DDT poisoning. Officials spread DDT at the time to prevent human disease.

The golden eagle, however, a dark brown bird with gold-colored feathers on the back of the head and neck, did not recover as well as the bald eagle from the depopulation. Golden eagles face pressure from unnatural predators like wind farms, vehicles, and illegal hunters. They also face habitat destruction in many areas.

Wind energy turbines pose a threat to bald and golden eagles; but conservationists also fear certain type of poisoning is destroying populations

Both species also face pressure from increased lead poisoning. Hunters leave bullets in wildlife remains, then the eagles scavenge the carcass, accidentally ingesting the lead in the process. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week that they estimate bald eagle populations of about 316,000 in the lower 48 states; conversely, the service believes only about 40,000 golden eagles still fly in American skies.

A study by researchers at the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health at Cornell University claims that lead poisoning suppressed population growth by 6.3 percent in males. The study claims lead suppressed growth by 4.2 percent in females.

“This study can be used by state and federal wildlife managers. It can inform policy surrounding the use of lead ammunition or to educate hunters on the population-scale effects of their ammunition choices,” Cornell researchers said in the study.

In 2018, the study counted 2,050 breeding females, a reduction of an estimated 98 breeding females as a result of lead poisoning. Similarly, in that year, 10,172 females were not reproducing. The number represents a reduction of an estimated 742 non-breeding females as a result of lead poisoning.

As for males in 2018, the study counted 2,050 breeding males, a reduction of an estimated 65 breeding males as a result of the poisoning. Similarly, they counted 10,172 males who were not reproducing. The number reflects a reduction of an estimated 1,645 non-breeding males as a result of lead poisoning.