Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist 49:13–18; 2017


Published by the Great Plains Natural Science Society. Used by permission.


Lead is toxic to all vertebrate species and ingestion of spent lead pellets from hunting is the primary method of exposure in birds. Both acute and chronic effects occur in response to lead ingestion including death, weight loss, and reduced body function, but the effect is highly variable among species. Most research has focused on lead ingestion impacts on waterfowl, but less is known about the effects of lead ingestion by upland game such as ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus). We gavage- fed zero, one, or three lead pellets to 90 (n = 30/group) captive-raised adult hen pheasants and monitored survival and body mass. We documented no mortalities during the 21-day post-treatment period, and no significant change in body weight was detected among the treatments, although liver lead levels were comparable to diagnostic lead poisoning in waterfowl, mourning doves (Zenaida macroura), and chukars (Alectoris chukar). We also collected gizzards and livers from hunter-harvested wild pheasants, recorded the presence of ingested lead in the gizzard (n = 335) and determined wet weight lead concentration in livers (n = 45). Mean liver lead concentration increased with the number of lead pellets in the gizzard for both samples. Pheasants appear to be less susceptible to the acute effects of lead poisoning when compared to waterfowl, mourning doves, and chukars.