Concentration and origin of lead (Pb) in liver and bone of Eurasian buzzards (Buteo buteo) in the United Kingdom

Mark A. Taggart, Richard F. Shore, Deborah J. Pain, Gabriela Peniche, Mónica Martinez-haro, Rafael Mateo, Julia Homann, Andrea Raab, Joerg Feldmann, Alan J. Lawlor, Elaine D. Potter, Lee A. Walker, David W. Braidwood, Andrew S. French, Jemima Parry-jones, John A. Swift, Rhys E. Green

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Ingestion of lead (Pb) derived from ammunition used in the hunting of game animals is recognised to be a significant potential source of Pb exposure of wild birds, including birds of prey. However, there are only limited data for birds of prey in Europe regarding tissue concentrations and origins of Pb. Eurasian buzzards (Buteo buteo) found dead in the United Kingdom during an 11-year period were collected and the concentrations of Pb in the liver and femur were measured. Concentrations in the liver consistent with acute exposure to Pb were found in 2.7% of birds and concentration in the femur consistent with exposure to lethal levels were found in 4.0% of individuals. Pb concentration in the femur showed no evidence of consistent variation among or within years, but was greater for old than for young birds. The Pb concentration in the liver showed no effect of the birds’ age, but varied markedly among years and showed a consistent tendency to increase substantially within years throughout the UK hunting season for gamebirds. The resemblance of the stable isotope composition of Pb from buzzard livers to that of Pb from the types of shotgun ammunition most widely-used in the UK increased markedly with increasing Pb concentration in the liver. Stable isotope results were consistent with 57% of the mass of Pb in livers of all of the buzzards sampled being derived from shotgun pellets, with this proportion being 89% for the birds with concentrations indicating acute exposure to Pb. Hence, most of the Pb acquired by Eurasian buzzards which have liver concentrations likely to be associated with lethal and sublethal effects is probably obtained when they prey upon or scavenge gamebirds and mammals shot using Pb shotgun pellets.
Original languageEnglish
Article number115629
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date9 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2020


  • Stable isotope
  • Shotgun
  • Spent lead ammunition
  • Acute exposure
  • Shooting seasons


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