Lead poisoning again appears to be taking a toll on trumpeter swans wintering in Whatcom County, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists.
As of last week, 30 dead or dying swans had been recovered from four locations near the U.S.-Canada border, according to Mike Davison, a WDFW district wildlife biologist.
Last winter, about 100 trumpeter swans died from lead poisoning over a six-week period in the same area.
Wildlife rehabilitators with the Sardis Wildlife Center in Custer and the Pilchuck Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on Camano Island are retrieving the sick and dead swans. Although the swans have little chance of survival once lead poisoning has set in, prompt retrieval of the birds is important so that bald eagles that feed on the carcasses are not affected by secondary poisoning.
WDFW is working with Canadian wildlife officials, as well the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Trumpeter Swan Society, to monitor the swans' health and to continue to seek the source of the lead, Davison said.
Wildlife officials believe the lead likely is coming from shotgun pellets which come to rest on lake and pond bottoms and are ingested by the swans.
Lead shot has been illegal for waterfowl hunting in western Washington since 1988, and nationally since 1991. In addition, WDFW has required the use of non-toxic shot for all hunting in the Skagit Wildlife Area since 1988, and last year extended the lead-shot prohibition to 10 other pheasant release sites and wildlife areas across the state.