Lead exposure in free-flying turkey vultures is associated with big game hunting in California.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0015350
Predatory and scavenging birds are at risk of lead exposure when they feed on animals injured or killed by lead ammunition. While lead ammunition has been banned from waterfowl hunting in North America for almost two decades, lead ammunition is still widely used for hunting big game and small game animals. In this study, we evaluated the association between big game hunting and blood lead concentration in an avian scavenger species that feeds regularly on large mammals in California. We compared blood lead concentration in turkey vultures within and outside of the deer hunting season, and in areas with varying wild pig hunting intensity. Lead exposure in turkey vultures was significantly higher during the deer hunting season compared to the off-season, and blood lead concentration was positively correlated with increasing wild pig hunting intensity. Our results link lead exposure in turkey vultures to deer and wild pig hunting activity at these study sites, and we provide evidence that spent lead ammunition in carrion poses a significant risk of lead exposure to scavengers.