Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 351-355

First online:

Heavy metal and selenium levels in feathers of known-aged common terns (Sterna hirundo)

  • J. BurgerAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Rutgers UniversityEnvironmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute
  • , I. C. T. NisbetAffiliated withI.C.T. Nisbet and Company
  • , M. GochfeldAffiliated withEnvironmental and Occupational Health Sciences InstituteDepartment of Environmental and Community Medicine, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

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Concentrations of five metals and selenium in the breast feathers of known-aged common terns (Sterna hirundo) were examined at a breeding colony in Massachusetts, USA. Concentrations of selenium, chromium, and manganese increased significantly with age among adults (2–21 years old), whereas concentrations of mercury, cadmium, and lead did not. Concentrations of cadmium, selenium and manganese were lower in fledglings (20–23 days old) than in adults. Concentrations of mercury, however, were higher in fledglings than in adults, and concentrations of chromium were higher in fledglings than in young adults, probably reflecting higher exposure to these metals in the breeding area than in the winter quarters where the adults' feathers were grown. At least for mercury, excretion of metals into the feathers at each molt was an efficient protective mechanism, preventing continued accumulation in the body with increasing age.