Bald Eagles Down in the Dumps?

Bald Eagle, Antonio Busiello/Audubon Photography Awards

Bald Eagle, Antonio Busiello/Audubon Photography Awards

Our Waste Sites May Be a Threat to Birds

Even if you have not visited the Prince William County landfill, you may have heard that it is a magnet for Bald Eagles, among other birds, including clouds of gulls. You can stand at a random spot and count more than 20 adult eagles at a time. Bit of a shame, really, that we have pulled Bald Eagles back from the brink of extinction, thanks largely to federal protective laws, only to have then turn into connoisseurs of rubbish. But nature finds sustenance where it can.

Birds in Jeopardy

Unfortunately, the eagle’s adaptability to available food sources may bring harmful effects. Researchers at Argentina’s National University of Comahue, after examining blood samples from 48 adult Black Vultures that foraged in a Patagonian garbage dump, found that the birds were not only heavier than conspecifics that fed only in the wild but also had:

  • higher levels of uric acid from eating too much protein,
  • excessive levels of blood sugar from eating sweets and cereals,
  • an increased likelihood of developing kidney and other diseases because of the diet heavy on protein and carbos, and
  • higher levels of immune proteins thanks to the high density of pathogens encountered in the dumps.

The findings are a warning that other birds scavenging on rubbish, including California Condors and our own Bald Eagles, also could be at risk.