Exposure of insects and insectivorous birds to metals and other elements from abandoned mine tailings in three Summit County drainages, Colorado

  • Christine M. Custer
  • Chi Yang
  • James G. Crock
  • Valerie Shearn-Bochsler
  • Kathleen S. Smith
  • Phillip L. Hageman


Concentrations of 31 metals, metalloids, and other elements were measured in insects and insectivorous bird tissues from three drainages with different geochemistry and mining histories in Summit Co., Colorado, in 2003, 2004, and 2005. In insect samples, all 25 elements that were analyzed in all years increased in both Snake and Deer Creeks in the mining impacted areas compared to areas above and below the mining impacted areas. This distribution of elements was predicted from known or expected sediment contamination resulting from abandoned mine tailings in those drainages. Element concentrations in avian liver tissues were in concordance with levels in insects, that is with concentrations higher in mid-drainage areas where mine tailings were present compared to both upstream and downstream locations; these differences were not always statistically different, however. The lack of statistically significant differences in liver tissues, except for a few elements, was due to relatively small sample sizes and because many of these elements are essential and therefore well regulated by the bird’s homeostatic processes. Most elements were at background concentrations in avian liver tissue except for Pb which was elevated at mid-drainage sites to levels where δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase activity was inhibited at other mining sites in Colorado. Lead exposure, however, was not at toxic levels. Fecal samples were not a good indication of what elements birds ingested and were potentially exposed to.


Abandoned mine tailings Colorado Insectivorous birds Insects Metals Summit Co. Tree swallows 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine M. Custer
    • 1
  • Chi Yang
    • 2
  • James G. Crock
    • 3
  • Valerie Shearn-Bochsler
    • 4
  • Kathleen S. Smith
    • 3
  • Phillip L. Hageman
    • 3
  1. 1.Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences CenterUS Geological SurveyLa CrosseUSA
  2. 2.LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Crustal Imaging and Characterization Team, Denver Federal CenterUS Geological SurveyDenverUSA
  4. 4.National Wildlife Health CenterUS Geological SurveyMadisonUSA

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