Let me start out by saying right off that I believe lead has no place in our lives, especially where it comes into contact, or potential contact, with people and other animals. This includes our water, runoff or directly, in fishing tackle or ammunition. The health hazards lead poses is thoroughly documented and unarguable. Paint can no longer contain lead, but many older homes still pose risks.You can’t use lead shot near lakes or marshes for duck hunting, but you can use it anywhere else. Hunting with lead shot holds two dangers: the first is that it ends up on the ground, where birds ingest it along with other “pebbles” to help grind their food. The second is that anyone eating an animal killed with lead shot risks poisoning themselves and anyone else sharing the meal. The problem with lead sinkers is that many of them break off fishing lines and settle to the bottom of the lake. These pose a hazard to waterfowl who also ingest them to break down food.
My case in point is the unfortunate loon featured here. Holly Gedert called me from her Douglas Lake home to pass on what neighbor Karen Spezia reported to be a wounded loon. By the time Holly reached the bird, it was onshore. She called me back saying it was very sluggish, trying to re-enter the water, but unable to remain upright. Within a few minutes the loon lay dead. She suggested calling Dale Covy, husband of Anne Covy of the Douglas Lake Loon Committee, whom I’d met on a recent tour of the lake. Dale, a veterinarian back home, arrived on site and opened up the dead loon. The contents of the gullet quickly revealed the culprit. A couple undigested fish, about twenty small pebbles and a slightly worn lead sinker, showing scratch marks where it had rubbed against the stones.
Loons, as most birds do, transfer food from their mouths to their crop, where it might be stored while on a feeding binge, until they send it along to the gullet. Many birds, while nesting, will keep it in the crop to be regurgitated later for their young. Once in the gullet, however, it remains with the stones birds keep there, where the gullet’s powerful muscles squeeze and mash the food, the stones working as grinding agent. The stones eventually break down and are passed through the digestive system, the bird replacing them as needed. The lead sinker killed this loon long before it wore down enough to pass through. The frightening part is how little of the lead was needed to kill this poor loon outright. Sad though this story is, I appreciate Holly Gedert and Dale Covy, and the rest of the DLLC for bringing this hazard to light. How many birds (loons and others) are lost each year that never come to our attention? How many go on to die on their wintering grounds or enroute?
While I applaud efforts to educate anglers about lead use in tackle, as Michigan Loonwatch seeks to do, I believe banning lead tackle is the only effective solution to these incidents. Only a few states currently do. Michigan isn’t one of them.