Previous research has suggested that free-ranging mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) may ingest spent lead pellets, succumb to lead toxicosis, and die in a relatively short time (i.e., an acute lead toxicosis hypothesis). We tested this hypothesis by administering 157 captive mourning doves 2–24 lead pellets, monitoring pellet retention and short-term survival, and measuring related physiological characteristics. During the 19- to 21-day posttreatment period, 104 doves that received lead pellets died (deceased doves) and 53 survived (survivors); all 22 birds in a control group survived. Within 24-hr of treatment, blood lead levels increased almost twice as fast for deceased doves compared to survivors (F1,208 = 55.49; P < 0.001). During the first week, heterophil:lymphocyte (H:L) ratios increased twice as fast for deceased doves than with survivors (F1,198 = 23.14, P < 0.001). Posttreatment survival differed (χ2 = 37.4, P < 0.001) among the 5 groups of doves that retained different numbers of pellets, and survival ranged from 0.57 (95% CI: 0.44–0.74) for doves that retained ≤2 lead pellets 2 days posttreatment compared to 0.08 (95% CI: 0.022–0.31) for those doves that retained 13–19 lead pellets on 2 days posttreatment; significant differences existed among the 5 groups. After controlling for dove pretreatment body mass, each additional lead pellet increased the hazard of death by 18.0% (95% CI: 1.132–1.230, P < 0.001) and 25.7% (95% CI: 1.175–1.345, P < 0.001) for males and females, respectively. For each 1-g increase in pretreatment body mass, the hazard of death decreased 2.5% (P = 0.04) for males and 3.8% (P = 0.02) for females. Deceased doves had the highest lead levels in liver (49.20 ± 3.23 ppm) and kidney (258.16 ± 21.85 ppm) tissues, whereas controls showed the lowest levels (liver, 0.08 ± 0.041 ppm; kidney, 0.17 ± 0.10 ppm). For doves dosed with pellets, we observed simultaneous increases in blood lead levels and H:L ratios, whereas packed-cell volume (PCV) values declined. Our results support an acute lead toxicosis hypothesis. Although further research is necessary to investigate the magnitude of lead shot ingestion and toxicosis in mourning doves, we recommend that management agencies initiate development of a long-term strategic plan aimed at implementing a nontoxic shot regulation for mourning dove hunting.
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