REGINA -- Salthaven West Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre is warning hunters of the dangers of using lead bullets, after two bald eagles found near Alameda in December died from lead poisoning.

Megan Lawrence, Salthaven's centre manager, said the birds arrived a few days apart and were both very sick and weak. Work was done to try and save the birds, but they died from poisoning.

“We knew that there was at least a couple of dead coyotes in the area that we suspect someone had shot with lead. And when they’re left out there, eagles are scavengers by nature,” Lawrence said. “We suspect that they ingested some lead from those carcasses. Even a small amount is toxic, so it had gotten into their system and poisoned them.”

A report from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative confirmed the birds were killed by lead poisoning.

In Saskatchewan, it is illegal to use lead ammunition for hunting waterfowl like ducks and geese, but it is allowed for hunting large game.

Lawrence said Salthaven West has had several other eagles brought to the sanctuary that died of lead poisoning. She said the issue is common for other centres as well.

According to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, poisoning is the top cause of death for bald eagles in Saskatchewan. Lead accounts for slightly under 10 per cent of bald eagle deaths in Saskatchewan and around 12 per cent of golden eagle deaths in the province.

It can also be found in some sinkers used for fishing and is the second most common poison impacting eagles behind organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, which are chemicals commonly used illegally to kill pest animals.

“Poisoning in general, all of these poisons together, make up over 50 per cent of the mortality in eagles,” Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative Western/Northern Regional director Trent Bollinger said.

Poisoning is the top cause of death for bald eagles in Saskatchewan, according to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative.

“It’s usually because it’s less expensive than other options such as copper or steel ammunition. So, a lot of people still use lead and I don’t think they realize the impacts that it has on the environment,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said ingesting any animals shot with lead can also be harmful for humans. Bollinger encourages hunters to switch to non-toxic bullets and to use non-lead sinkers when fishing.