Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist • 52(2): December 2020, pp. 68-75.


Ingestion of spent lead pellets is a well-documented source of lead exposure in free-ranging birds, although the consequence of lead ingestion varies widely among avian guilds. Ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) appear to be less susceptible to lead poisoning than other game birds. Our objectives were to determine survival, liver lead accumulation, and body mass change of 129 captive-raised pheasants in response to being gavage-fed 5, 10, 20, or 40 lead pellets. All pheasants survived the 21-day experiment. Liver-lead levels were positively correlated with the number of lead pellets retained and negatively correlated with beginning body mass. Change in percent body mass varied by sex and liver-lead concentration. Higher liver-lead levels were associated with higher percent mass loss for males but not females. Our experiment coincided with the breeding season, which may have contributed to the sex-specific responses. Our pheasants survived lead doses and liver-lead accumulation levels associated with acute lead toxicosis and death for a variety of avian guilds.