Threats to Birds of Prey

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is the most significant challenge to the recovery of California Condors. Our research and experience shows that lead from spent ammunition is a common source of lead exposure in condors and other wildlife that scavenge on carcasses and gut piles in the field, especially during and following the deer hunting season.

Biologist enters a pen with California Condors ready for release

Angela Woodside

In 2008, The Peregrine Fund organized a landmark conference, “Ingestion of Lead from Spent Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans” in Boise, Idaho. It drew 150 professionals from the fields of human health, wildlife health, management and conservation, outdoor sports and hunting, and public policy to hear research, discuss solutions and share expertise. The conference proceedings are available at no charge online or in book form by ordering here.

The World Center for Birds of Prey is home to the world’s largest flock of captive California Condors. Chicks are hatched and raised by their parents, then transferred to our release facility at Vermilion Cliffs in northern Arizona. When released to the wild, the birds each have a wing tag that identifies them and allows the field staff to track their movements as the birds forage in Arizona and southern Utah.

Each year since 2000, The Peregrine Fund has trapped almost every condor in the Arizona flock and tested each one for lead exposure. If they have ingested fragments of lead in carcasses or gut piles from game animals shot with lead ammunition, the condors become sick or die unless they are treated to remove the lead from their system.

The Peregrine Fund has partnered with the Arizona Game and Fish Department on an awareness program that has resulted in hunters voluntarily switching to non-lead ammunition in condor country. A similar effort is under way in Utah after condors expanded their foraging range there during the hunting season.

In 2018 The Peregrine Fund, along with the Oregon Zoo and the Institute for Wildlife Studies, founded the North American Non-lead Partnership to expand the coalition of hunters, anglers and other conservationists dedicated to improving ecosystem and wildlife health by choosing non-lead options.

Related information

All Threats to Birds of Prey

Learn more about these threats
Globe and thermometer
Climate Change
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Energy Supply
House, trees, and stump
Habitat Loss
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Human Conflict
Invasive Species
Knowledge Gap
icon of lead ammunition
Lead Poisoning