U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (1996) 15:1, pp. 4–20.


There is increasing concern that birds in terrestrial ecosystems may be exposed to spent lead shot. Evidence exists that upland birds, particularly mourning doves (Zenaida macroura), ingest spent lead shot and that raptors ingest lead shot by consuming wounded game. Mortality, neurological dysfunction, immune suppression, and reproductive impairment are documented effects of exposure to lead in birds. An ecological risk assessment on the impact of lead shot exposure in upland birds was conducted and is presented in the context of the new United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Ecological Risk Assessment Paradigm. A considerable amount of spent lead shot is released into the environment each year from shooting and hunting. Doves collected from fields that are cultivated to attract mourning doves for hunting activities show evidence of ingestion of spent lead shot. Because lead can cause both acute and chronic toxicity if ingested by birds, and because there is evidence of widespread deposition of lead shot in terrestrial ecosystems, concern for impacts on upland game birds and raptors seems warranted. Although this ecological risk assessment does not clearly define a significant risk of lead shot exposure to upland game birds, this issue merits continued scrutiny to protect our upland game bird and raptor resources.