Loons and Lead

How to Help | Loons & Lead Poisoning | Other Species Affected

Lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for adult Common Loons in the Northeast, accounting for hundreds of adult loon deaths over the last 25 years.  These deaths are completely preventable by using non-lead fishing tackle.

How Do Loons Ingest Lead Tackle?

  • Eating a fish that has ingested a lead jig or sinker
  • Striking at a line being trolled or retrieved through the water with lead tackle attached
  • Picking small split-shot sinkers off the bottom of the lake, mistaking them for a pebble they normally ingest to aid in digestion

How Can You Help?

  • Switch to lead-free tackle made from non-toxic materials such as bismuth, tin, tungsten, steel, and ceramics (please note that zinc-containing tackle is not recommended because it is also toxic to wildlife!)
  • Go through your tackle box and dispose of old lead tackle properly
  • Ask your local sporting goods store to carry lead-free fishing tackle
  • Reel in around loons
  • Educate others about the dangers of lead fishing tackle and ask them to use non-lead alternatives (and see our page of Online Retailers)
  • Attend or host a presentation or a lead tackle exchange event

How Does Lead Poisoning Affect Loons?

  • Ingested lead tackle is fatal to loons
  • Early signs of lead poisoning include abnormal behavior, but progress to include diarrhea, weakness, tremors, gasping and muscle paralysis.
  • Loons with late stage lead poisoning will exhibit tremors, gasping, inability to fly, and will eventually pull themselves up on shore
  • A loon will die within 2-4 weeks of ingesting lead fishing tackle
  • Adult fatality can also result from loons becoming easy targets for predators
  • Parental care of chicks decreases with adult lead poisoning and leads to increased chick mortality. 

Other Species Affected by Lead Poisoning

Although lead is toxic to all wildlife, birds are particularly at risk of lead poisoning because they often hold lead objects in the gizzard rather than passing them through their digestive systems.  According to the US EPA, there are 75 species of birds at risk from lead tackle.  The species on the list below are known to have died from ingested lead fishing tackle.

  • Bald Eagle
  • Waterfowl (including Common Merganser, Mallard, American Black Duck, Canada Goose)
  • Swans (including Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan)
  • Herons (including Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron)
  • Gulls & Terns (including Herring Gull, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern)
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