, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 322-327

Heavy metal and selenium levels in feathers of young egrets and herons from Hong Kong and Szechuan, China

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Several species of herons and egrets frequently nest in colonies in areas where humans also concentrate. Since the birds feed on intermediate-sized fish that themselves concentrate pollutants, they can be used not only to assess the levels of contaminants in avian tissues but as indicators of contaminants in the environment. The concentration of heavy metals and selenium in the breast feathers of fledgling black-crowned night herons Nycticorax nycticorax and Chinese pond herons Ardeola bacchus from the Tu Jing Yan heronry outside Chengdu, Szechuan Province in China; and from fledgling black-crowned night heron, little egret Egretta garzetta, great egret Egretta alba and cattle egret Bubulcus ibis from the Mai Po heronry in Hong Kong, were determined. Breast feathers were also collected from adult great egrets in Hong Kong. Adult great egrets had significantly higher levels of all heavy metals than did young great egrets. There were no significant interspecific differences in metal levels among the young at Szechuan China, except for chromium (pond herons had higher levels). There were significant differences among the young nesting at Hong Kong for all metals examined. Great egrets had lower, and night herons had higher, levels of lead than the other young. Night herons also had the highest levels of cadmium, manganese, and selenium compared to the other young. Great egret chicks had the lowest mercury levels, while little egret had the highest levels. Lead levels for all the birds in both Hong Kong and Szechuan were among the highest in the world, and this was attributed to the continued use of leaded gasoline.