Concern over lead poisoning led to progressive prohibition of toxic shot to harvest waterfowl in the 1980's. Nevertheless, waterfowl remain susceptible to ingestion of lead shot because illegal use continues and spent shot persists in soil and wetland substrates. While mortality due to lead toxicosis has subsided, sublethal effects may still affect survival and reproduction. We measured liver lead levels and body condition in 732 Canada geese (Branta canadensis interior) during July 1984 to April 1989 in southern Illinois (USA), east-central Wisconsin (USA), and northern Ontario (Canada). Although we sampled only individuals that were visibly healthy, 55 of 732 (7.5%) geese had elevated liver lead levels (>2 ppm). Lead levels of 46 (6.3%) geese indicated subclinical poisoning (2–6 ppm) and 9 (1.2%) geese had lead levels indicative of clinical poisoning (>6 ppm). A greater proportion of juveniles (14.3%) had elevated lead levels than did adults (6.0%), but there was no difference between genders. Lead levels were highest in autumn and winter in southern Illinois, but were low during nesting and summer, despite legal use of lead shot in northern Ontario during our study. Lead poisoning (≥5% of the population) was still evident during all seasons in juveniles, and during autumn and winter in adults, 5 to 10 yr after toxic shot was banned from areas where we collected geese during migration and winter. Elevated lead levels did not affect total body mass, lipid reserves, or mineral levels of geese we collected. Protein levels also were unaffected below 10 ppm, but there was evidence of decline at higher concentrations. Thus, it seems unlikely that lead exposure currently affects survival or reproduction of Mississippi Valley Population (MVP) geese via body condition, although other sublethal effects cannot be discounted.
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Vol. 35 • No. 2