US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Poessel et al.


Copyright 2017.

This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21378


Lead poisoning is an important conservation concern for wildlife, and scavenging birds are especially at risk from consumption of carcasses of animals killed with lead ammunition. Because current methods to identify lead exposure require animal capture and blood collection, management would benefit from the development of a less costly and noninvasive behavioral test for illness in wild animals. We attempted to design such a test to identify lead exposure in California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) that we tracked with global positioning system (GPS) telemetry in southern California, USA, 2013–2016. We measured blood-lead concentrations in tracked birds and expected that flight behavior would be influenced by lead exposure; thus, we measured the effect of blood-lead concentrations on 2 different types of movement rates and on the proportion of time condors spent in flight. We found no effect of lead exposure on any of these 3 behavioral metrics. Our work suggests that the measurements we took of flight behaviors were not a useful tool in predicting lead exposure in the mildly to moderately exposed birds we studied. Wild birds are effective at hiding illness, especially condors who have a strong social hierarchy in which showing weakness is a disadvantage. However, focusing on behaviors other than flight, expanding the sample studied to include birds with a wider range of lead concentration values, or analyzing tissues such as feathers (rather than, or in addition to, blood) may be more useful for identification of lead exposure and other diseases that may limit wildlife populations.