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As bald eagles converge on Lake Coeur d'Alene, biologist warns of lead bullet use

As Bald Eagles converge on Lake Coeur...

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Each year hundreds of bald eagles converge on Lake Coeur d'Alene to feast on Kokanee salmon, joining the year-round feathered residents of North Idaho who are also searching for food. 

In addition to fish, Bald eagles and other raptors like Golden eagles and Red tailed hawks will scavenge for food, often times feeding on the remains left behind after a hunter field dresses a kill.

This doesn't present a problem for the birds, unless the hunter used lead bullets, which can fragment if they hit bone and if ingested are toxic.  

"Just one lead fragment ingested is all it takes to kill a bald eagle," said Janie Veltkamp, a raptor biologist with 25 years of experience, who runs Birds of Prey Northwest,"what ensues is a slow agonizing death."

She says she's already had two bald eagles come in this year with fatal cases of lead poisoning. When they do, she says its heartbreaking.

"Often these birds are suffering such a high level of lead toxicosis that they can't be treated," she said. "There is nothing you can do but watch them die."

She says the birds will come in, barely able to move, standup or even hold their heads up. She says they are often blind, have green tail feathers and can't process food. 

The fix is easy, for hunters she recommends using alternative, non-toxic bullets. 

"Copper is a good alternative, nickel and also bismuth are alternatives that are readily available," she said.

Non-toxic bullets are more expensive, but she says consider the life that might be on the line when you are comparing the price difference. 

"Lead bullets kill twice," she said. 

And when it comes to appreciation of our national symbol and other birds of prey, who wouldn't rather see them on the wing, as opposed to in the ground. 

She says she encourages parents to get their children involved in appreciation for birds of prey at a young age, and has a written a book about lead poisoning and other dangers they face. More information can be found on the Birds of Prey Northwest website