We reviewed cases of raptor mortality resulting from cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides. We compiled records from the U.S., U.K. and Canada for the period 1985-95 (520 incidents) and surveyed the relevant literature to identify the main routes of exposure and those products that led to the greatest number of poisoning cases. A high proportion of cases in the U.K. resulted from abusive uses of pesticides (willful poisoning). The proportion was smaller in North America where problems with labeled uses of pesticides were as frequent as abuse cases. Poisoning resulting from labeled use was possible with a large number of granular pesticides and some seed treatments through secondary poisoning or through the ingestion of contaminated invertebrates, notably earthworms. With the more toxic products, residue levels in freshly-sprayed insects were high enough to cause mortality. The use of organophosphorus products as avicides and for the topical treatment of livestock appeared to be common routes of intoxication. The use of insecticides in dormant oils also gave rise to exposure that can be lethal or which can debilitate birds and increase their vulnerability. A few pesticides of high toxicity were responsible for the bulk of poisoning cases. Based on limited information, raptors appeared to be more sensitive than other bird species to organophosphorus and carbamate pesticides. Some of the more significant risk factors that resulted in raptor poisonings were: insectivory and vermivory; opportunistic taking of debilitated prey; scavenging, especially if the gastrointestinal tracts are consumed; presence in agricultural areas; perceived status as pest species; and flocking or other gregarious behavior at some part of their life cycle. Lethal or sublethal poisoning should always be considered in the diagnosis of dead or debilitated raptors even when another diagnosis (e.g., electrocution, car or building strike) is apparent. Many cases of poisoning are not currently diagnosed as such and, even when diagnosed, the information is often not made available to regulatory authorities. The importance of pesticide intoxications relative to other sources of mortality is highly variable in time and place; on a regional level, the increased mortality of raptors resulting from cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides can be significant, especially in the case of rare species.
Additional Publication Details
Poisoning of raptors with organophosphorus and carbamate pesticides with emphasis on Canada, U.S. and U.K.