Lead-induced mortality appears to have been a major factor in the decline of the California condor, Gymnogyps californianus. We orally dosed turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) with BB-sized lead shot from January 1988 through July 1988 to determine physiological response (delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase inhibition, erythrocyte protoporphyrin levels, anemia), diagnostic tissue lead concentrations (blood, liver, and kidney), and comparative sensitivity of this species. Two turkey vultures died and two became so intoxicated they were euthanized. Overall, responses of measured parameters were comparable to other species exposed to lead although there was considerable individual variation. Survival time (143-211 days), even with the large number of shot and constant redosing, was much longer than reported for other species of birds, suggesting considerable tolerance by turkey vultures to the deleterious effects of lead ingestion. Based on these observations, turkey vultures appear to be poor models for assessing the risk of lead poisoning to California condors or predicting their physiological response.
Additional publication details
Experimental lead poisoning in Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura