Lead accumulation and osprey production near a mining site on the coeur d'Alene River, Idaho

  • Charles J. Henny
  • Lawrence J. Blus
  • David J. Hoffman
  • Robert A. Grove
  • Jeff S. Hatfield


Mining and smelting at Kellogg-Smelterville, Idaho, resulted in high concentrations of lead in Coeur d'Alene (CDA) River sediments 15–65 km downstream, where ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) nested. Adult and nestling ospreys living along the CDA River had significantly higher blood lead concentrations than those at Lake Coeur d'Alene (intermediate area) or Pend Oreille and Flathead Lakes (reference areas). Lead concentrations in fish collected from the study areas paralleled those found in ospreys. Inhibition of blood δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD) activity and elevation of protoporphyrin concentration provided evidence of lead exposure. In adult ospreys, ALAD activity was negatively correlated with lead in blood (r=−0.57), whereas protoporphyrin was positively correlated with lead in blood (r=+0.40). Neither hemoglobin nor hematocrit was adversely affected by the relatively modest lead concentrations found in the blood. Pronounced accumulation of lead by adults or young could ultimately result in behavioral abnormalities or death, both of which would reduce productivity of the nesting osprey population. We did not observe death related to lead, behavioral abnormalities, or reduced productivity during this 1986–87 study. Despite some lead-induced biochemical changes in blood parameters, ospreys produced young at nearly identical rates in the three study areas; these rates were among the highest ever reported in the western United States. Post-fledging survival of ospreys exposed to lead early in life remains an unknown. Lead does not biomagnify in the food chain as do organochlorine pesticides and mercury and several osprey behavior traits reduce the potential for the species to accumulate critical levels of lead. Swans, which feed at a lower trophic level, continue to die from environmental lead in the region.


Lead Concentration Organochlorine Pesticide Protoporphyrin Behavioral Abnormality Lower Trophic Level 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles J. Henny
    • 1
  • Lawrence J. Blus
    • 1
  • David J. Hoffman
    • 2
  • Robert A. Grove
    • 1
  • Jeff S. Hatfield
    • 2
  1. 1.Patuxent Wildlife Research CenterU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceCorvailisUSA
  2. 2.Patuxent Wildlife Research CenterU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceLaurelUSA

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