Rare Visit from Golden Eagle: Reminder to Get the Lead Out

By Nicholas Lapham

As an ABC Board member, I've taken a particular interest in some of the major public policy issues affecting bird conservation in the United States. Particularly astonishing to me is the toll still being taken on large birds of prey — condors, eagles, hawks, and others — as a result of their feeding on the carcasses of animals shot with lead ammunition

It's no accident that we've taken lead out of gasoline and paint and otherwise acted to remove this deadly toxin from our environment. Yet the vast majority of hunters continue to use lead bullets despite the ready availability of equally effective and far safer alternatives.


The Farm at Sunnyside, habitat for many bird species including an occasional Golden Eagle. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Lapham.

We own an organic farm in Rappahannock County, Virginia, along the eastern ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains adjacent to Shenandoah National Park. We hunt deer using only copper ammunition and have actively tried to encourage other local sportsmen to do the same.

Still, people are slow to change longstanding traditions, and many continue to challenge the connection between their actions and the poisoning of these magnificent birds.

So, in the picture being worth a thousand words vein, we decided to put a game camera on the remains of deer killed on our property.  We've gotten a number of compelling images but none to compare with the photo at the top of this blog, captured just two weeks ago.


Golden Eagle by davemhuntphotography/Shutterstock.

Golden Eagles are rare in our neck of the woods, and this is the first we've recorded at the farm. While thrilled to see a golden here, we're sobered by the prospect that this bird faces the daily risk of ingesting lead-contaminated food that could cripple or kill it.

Few environmental problems these days leave us easy answers. This is one that does. It has nothing to do with restricting hunting or otherwise limiting outdoor recreation. Rather, it's about a simple, practical step that each and every hunter can take to help protect some of our most iconic birds.

Let's all work together to get the lead out!

NickNicholas Lapham owns and operates The Farm at Sunnyside, a producer of certified organic fruits and vegetables in Rappahannock County, Virginia. He is currently a board member of American Bird Conservancy. His previous experience includes positions at: World Wildlife Fund, African Parks Foundation of America, Conservation International, United Nations Foundation, the White House Climate Change Task Force, and Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science.