, 17:789 | Cite as

Survival of postfledging Forster’s terns in relation to mercury exposure in San Francisco Bay

  • Joshua T. Ackerman
  • Collin A. Eagles-Smith
  • John Y. Takekawa
  • Samuel A. Iverson


We examined factors influencing mercury concentrations in 90 fledgling Forster’s terns (Sterna forsteri) and evaluated whether mercury influenced postfledging survival in San Francisco Bay, California. Mercury concentrations (±SE) in chicks 21–29 days old (just before fledging) were 0.33 ± 0.01 μg g−1 ww for blood and 6.44 ± 0.28 μg g−1 fw for breast feathers. Colony site had an overriding influence on fledgling contamination, however hatching date and age also affected blood, but not feather, mercury concentrations. Blood mercury concentrations decreased by 28% during the 50-day hatching period and increased with chick age by 30% during the last week prior to fledging. Using radio-telemetry, we calculated that cumulative survival during the 35-day postfledging time period was 0.81 ± 0.09 (SE). Postfledging survival rates increased with size-adjusted mass, and cumulative survival probability was 61% lower for terns with the lowest, compared to the highest, observed masses. Conversely, survival was not influenced by blood mercury concentration, time since fledging, sex, or hatch date. Mercury concentrations in breast feathers of fledglings found dead at nesting colonies also were no different than those in live chicks. Our results indicate that colony site, hatching date, and age influenced mercury concentrations in fledgling Forster’s terns, but that mercury did not influence postfledging survival.


Fledglings Mercury Postfledglings Survival Telemetry 



This research was funded by the CALFED Bay-Delta Program’s Ecosystem Restoration Program (Grant number ERP-02D-C12) with additional support from the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. We thank Jill Bluso, Cheryl Strong, Ross Wilming, Eli French, Sarah Stoner-Duncan, Angela Rex, Brooke Hill, Stacy Moskal, Joe Northrup, Kristen Dybala, Lani Stinson, Scott Demers, and Terry Adelsbach for field assistance and Robin Keister and Keith Miles for lab analyses. We also thank Clyde Morris, Joy Albertson, Mendel Stewart, Joelle Buffa, Eric Mruz, and the staff at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Special Use Permits 11640-2005-002 and 11640-2006-006), Carl Wilcox, Larry Wyckoff, John Krause, and the staff of the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (California Department of Fish and Game), and Nicole Athearn, Cheryl Strong, San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, and PRBO Conservation Science for logistical support. Early versions of the manuscript were reviewed by Josh Vest, Susan Wainwright-De la Cruz, and two anonymous reviewers. The use of trade, product, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joshua T. Ackerman
    • 1
  • Collin A. Eagles-Smith
    • 1
  • John Y. Takekawa
    • 2
  • Samuel A. Iverson
    • 2
  1. 1.U.S. Geological SurveyWestern Ecological Research Center, Davis Field Station, University of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyWestern Ecological Research Center, San Francisco Bay Estuary Field StationVallejoUSA

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