Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 211-216

First online:

Mercury in Feathers of Little Egret Egretta garzetta and Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax Chicks and in Their Prey in the Axios Delta, Greece

  • V.  GoutnerAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, GR-540 06, Thessaloniki, Greece
  • , R. W.  FurnessAffiliated withApplied Ornithology Unit, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Glasgow University, Glasgow G12 8QQ, United Kingdom

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Mercury concentrations were measured in feathers of little egret and night heron chicks and in their prey in the Axios Delta, Greece. Significantly higher concentrations occurred in night heron than in little egret in 1993. In the night heron the mercury content of feathers was negatively correlated to the size of chicks, possibly due to inhibition of growth. Mercury concentrations were higher than reported for heron feathers in seriously polluted sites in North America and Japan, but the toxic hazard is unclear. Diets differed considerably between the two species due to use of different foraging habitats and this seems responsible for different mercury contents of feathers. Mercury concentrations in the pumpkinseed sunfish Lepomis gibbosus, goldfish Carrassius auratus, and in dragonfly Odonata larvae were the highest among the prey categories. Frogs and water beetles Dytiscidae had moderate concentrations whereas saltwater fish and terrestrial prey had very low mercury concentrations. The implication is that the deltaic marshes are the habitat most polluted with mercury. Night heron chick feathers, freshwater fish and dragonfly larvae could be used to monitor mercury contamination in this region, but use of bird feathers alone could give misleading results if changes in diet occurred.