, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 213-227

Environmental contaminants in bald eagle eggs—1980–84—and further interpretations of relationships to productivity and shell thickness

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Abstract

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) eggs were collected in 15 States in the United States in 1980–1984 and analyzed for organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and mercury. Data were compared and combined with data from earlier studies to examine trends and refine relationships of contaminants to shell thickness and young production. Moderate shell thinning occurred in eggs from several States. The frequency of occurrence of detectable residues of several contaminants declined during 1969–84. DDE concentrations declined significantly in Wisconsin, Maine, and the Chesapeake Bay region. Some other contaminant residues declined, but usually not significantly. During 1980–84, DDE, PCB, and mercury concentrations were highest in eggs from Maine, whereas most contaminant concentrations were lowest in eggs from Arizona. DDE was most closely related to shell thickness and young production at sampled breeding areas. Fifteen percent shell thinning was associated with 16 μg/g DDE (wet weight) for eggs collected early in incubation. Young production was normal when eggs at sampled breeding areas contained < 3.6 μg/g DDE (wet weight), was nearly halved between 3.6 to 6.3 μg/g, and halved again when concentrations exceeded 6.3 μg/g. Several other contaminants were also associated with poor reproduction and eggshell thinning; however, their impact appeared to be secondary to that of DDE and was probably related to their high correlation with DDE. Data relating contaminant concentrations to mean 5-year production are applicable only to breeding areas where eggs are collected after failure to hatch, because such breeding areas are not representative of all nesting bald eagles in a given population.