Temporal Changes in Concentrations of Lead and Other Trace Metals in Free-Ranging Eurasian Eagle Owls Bubo bubo in Sweden
Patterns of lead and other trace metals were examined in 122 Eurasian eagle owls Bubo bubo found dead in Sweden in the period 1978–2013. Environmental lead (Pb) has decreased over recent decades from reduced anthropogenic emissions but mortality by Pb poisoning is still frequently reported for avian raptors and scavengers exposed to Pb ammunition. One objective here was to determine if Pb concentrations in a nocturnal non-scavenging raptor follow the general decline observed in other biota. Pb concentration in owl liver was significantly correlated with body weight, sex, latitude, longitude and season. Pb showed a significant decreasing trend towards north and west. Starved birds had significantly higher concentrations. Total Pb concentrations in liver averaged 0.179 μg g−1 dry weight (median 0.103) and decreased by 5.6% per year 1978–2013, or 5.3% after adjustment for confounding factors, similar to trends in other species. Among 14 other trace elements only antimony and arsenic showed decreasing trends. Lead isotope ratios 206Pb/207Pb and 208Pb/207Pb increased from 1.138 and 2.408 in 1978–1985 to 1.170 and 2.435 in 2010–2013, respectively, demonstrating that the decreasing Pb concentration in eagle owl is related to the phase-out of leaded gasoline in Europe, where Pb additives had much lower isotope ratios than natural lead in Swedish soils. Only one incidence of suspected Pb poisoning (40.7 μg g−1 in liver) was observed indicating that poisoning from ingestion of metallic lead is rare (< 1%) in eagle owl in Sweden, in contrast to what has been reported for eagles.