Anthropogenic lead intoxication is the most frequent cause of death of White-tailed Sea-Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) in Germany. Most lead fragments are ingested by eagles feeding on carcasses and viscera of game animals shot with lead-based ammunition left in the wild by hunters. We investigated how many regurgitated pellets contained metal fragments and hypothesized a correlation between the presence of metal fragments and (1) the hunting season, (2) the ban of lead in rifle ammunition, and (3) the frequency of specific prey animals in the pellets. We collected 273 regurgitated pellets, radiographed them for metal fragments, and analyzed the prey composition. The metal elements were identified using micro x-ray fluorescence. Metal particles were found in 9.2% of pellets; 24 fragments consisted of lead and one fragment was mostly copper. A higher proportion (14.3%) of contaminated pellets was detected during the hunting season from September through February. During the non-hunting season from March through August, 7.6% of the regurgitated pellets were contaminated. Furthermore, there was a significant positive correlation between the presence of mammalian remains in the pellets and metal contamination (general linear model, z = 2.16, P = 0.03). Our results indicate a correlation between the increased activity of hunters in winter and the occurrence of metal in regurgitated pellets of White-tailed Sea-Eagles.

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