Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 162-167

First online:

Differences in mercury contamination and elimination during feather development in gull and tern broods

  • P. H. BeckerAffiliated withInstitut für Vogelforschung
  • , D. HenningAffiliated withInstitut für Vogelforschung
  • , R. W. FurnessAffiliated withApplied Ornithology Unit, University of Glasgow

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Eggs, feathers (down, body feathers from side/shoulder and back) and some dead chicks (liver) from broods of three species, herring gull (Larus argentatus), black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus), and common tern (Sterna hirundo) from the German North Sea coast were collected to study intersibling differences in mercury contamination and elimination into the growing feathers. The mercury contamination in eggs, feathers, and liver of the terns was about four times that of the gulls; black-headed gulls had lowest mercury concentrations. The body feathers grown when the chicks became older had lower mercury levels than down in the more contaminated species (11% lower in herring gulls, 49% in common terns), indicating the advancing decontamination of the body by the plumage development. The elimination of mercury was greater in chicks with higher mercury levels. Down of the first hatched herring gull and common tern chick contained more mercury than down of the siblings hatched later, because of its higher burden derived from the first laid egg.