Lead (Pb) is a metabolic poison that can negatively influence biological processes, leading to illness and mortality across a large spectrum of North American avifauna (>120 species) and other organisms. Pb poisoning can result from numerous sources, including ingestion of bullet fragments and shot pellets left in animal carcasses, spent ammunition left in the field, lost fishing tackle, Pb-based paints, large-scale mining, and Pb smelting activities. Although Pb shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting in the United States (since 1991) and Canada (since 1999), Pb exposure remains a problem for many avian species. Despite a large body of scientific literature on exposure to Pb and its toxicological effects on birds, controversy still exists regarding its impacts at a population level. We explore these issues and highlight areas in need of investigation: (1) variation in sensitivity to Pb exposure among bird species; (2) spatial extent and sources of Pb contamination in habitats in relation to bird exposure in those same locations; and (3) interactions between avian Pb exposure and other landscape-level stressors that synergistically affect bird demography. We explore multiple paths taken to reduce Pb exposure in birds that (1) recognize common ground among a range of affected interests; (2) have been applied at local to national scales; and (3) engage governmental agencies, interest groups, and professional societies to communicate the impacts of Pb ammunition and fishing tackle, and to describe approaches for reducing their availability to birds. As they have in previous times, users of fish and wildlife will play a key role in resolving the Pb poisoning issue.
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Vol. 116 • No. 3