Raptors that consume game species may ingest lead fragments or shot embedded in their prey's flesh. Threatened Spanish imperial eagles Aquila adalberti feed on greylag geese in southern Spain in winter, and often ingest lead shot. We analysed bone and feather samples from 65 Spanish imperial eagle museum specimens collected between 1980 and 1999, to investigate the prevalence of elevated lead concentrations. Four of 34 birds (12%) had very elevated bone lead concentrations. All four birds were young and the concentrations were outliers to the distribution, suggesting probable exposure to lead gunshot. Excluding these elevated lead outliers, bone lead concentrations were correlated with the bird's age at death. Three of 41 feathers (7%) had elevated lead concentrations, indicative of high exposure during feather formation. When these outliers were omitted, feather lead concentration was correlated with the age of museum specimens, suggesting that a high proportion of feather lead was exogenous, deposited after specimen collection. Therefore, careful interpretation of feather lead concentrations is required to separate endogenous and exogenous lead. We discuss the potential significance of lead poisoning in Spanish imperial eagles and other raptors, and recommend measures for its reduction. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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