Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 1–7 | Cite as

Heavy metal concentrations in feathers of common loons (Gavia immer) in the Northeastern United States and age differences in mercury levels

  • Joanna Burger
  • Mark Pokras
  • Rebecca Chafel
  • Michael Gochfeld


Feathers serve as a useful, non-destructive approach for biomonitoring some aspects of environmental quality. Birds can eliminate over 90% of their body burden of mercury by sequestration in growing feathers, and they molt their feathers at least annually. Thus mercury concentrations should not vary in avian feathers as a function of age. We tested the null hypothesis that there are no age differences in the concentrations of mercury, lead, cadmium, selenium, copper, chromium and manganese in the feathers of immature and adult common loons Gavia immer from the Northeastern United States where the species is declining. Adults had significantly higher mean levels of mercury (20245 ppb) than immature loons (9677 ppb), but there were no age-related differences for other elements. Even with the small number of immatures, females had significantly higher levels of mercury than males, although the gender difference was not significant for adults.


Heavy Metal Mercury Chromium United States Cadmium 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Applequist, H., Asbirks, H., and Drabade, L.: 1984, ‘Mercury Monitoring; Mercury Stability in Bird Feathers’, Mar. Pollut. Bull. 15, 220.Google Scholar
  2. Bache, C.A., Gutermann, W.H., and Link, D.J.: 1971, ‘Residues of Total Mercury and Methylmercuric Salts in Lake Trout as a Function of Age’, Science 172, 951–952.Google Scholar
  3. Braune, B.M. and Gaskin, D.D.: 1987, ‘Comparison of Total Mercury Levels in Relation to Diet and Molt for Nine Species of Marine Birds’, Arch. Environ. Toxicol. Contam. 16, 217–224.Google Scholar
  4. Buhler, U. and Norheim, G.: 1981, ‘The Mercury Content in Feathers of the Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus in Norway’, Fauna Norv. Serc. 5, 43–46.Google Scholar
  5. Burger, Joanna: 1993, ‘Metals in Feathers of Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus): Evidence for Bioaccumulation or Exposure’, Environ. Monit. Assess. 24, 181–187.Google Scholar
  6. Burger, J. and Gochfeld, M.: 1991, ‘Lead, Mercury, and Cadmium in Feathers of Tropical Terns in Puerto Rico and Australia’, Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 21, 311–315.Google Scholar
  7. Burger, J., Nisbet, I.C.T., and Gochfeld, M.: in press, ‘Metal Levels in Regrown Feathers: Assessment of Contamination on the Wintering and Breeding Grounds in the Same Individuals’, J. Toxicol. Environ. Health. Google Scholar
  8. Burger, J., Schreiber, E.A.E., and Gochfeld, M.: 1992, ‘Lead, Cadmium, Selenium and Mercury in Seabird Feathers from the Tropical Mid-Pacific’, Environ. Toxicol. Chemistry 11, 815–822.Google Scholar
  9. Driver, E.A. and Derksen, A.J.: 1980, ‘Mercury Levels in Waterfowl from Manitoba, Canada, 1971–1972’, Pesticides Monit. J. 14, 95–101.Google Scholar
  10. EPA: 1981, ‘Interim Methods for Sampling and Analyses of Priority Pollutants in Sediments and Fish Tissues’, US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA 600/4-81-055, Cincinnati, Ohio.Google Scholar
  11. Eskildsen, J. and Grandjean, P.: 1984, ‘Lead Exposure from Lead Pellets: Age-Related Accumulation in Mute Swans’, Toxicol. Lett. 21, 225–229.Google Scholar
  12. Furness, R.W., Lewis, S.A., and Mills, J.A.: 1990, ‘Mercury Levels in the Plumage of Red-Billed Gulls Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus of Known Sex and Age’, Environ. Pollut. 63, 33–39.Google Scholar
  13. Fimreite, N., Brevik, F.M., and Torp, R.: 1982, ‘Mercury and Organochlorines in Eggs from a Norwegian Gannet Colony’, Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 28, 58–60.Google Scholar
  14. Gochfeld, M. and Burger, J.: 1987, ‘Factors Affecting Tissue Distribution of Heavy Metals: Effects of Age on Correlation Patterns in Common Terns, Sterna hirundo’, Biol. Trace Element Research 12, 389–399.Google Scholar
  15. Harris, P.: 1983, Seabirds: An Identification Guide, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.Google Scholar
  16. Howarth, D.M., Grant, T.R., and Hulbert, A.S.: 1982, ‘A Comparative Study of Heavy Metal Accumulation in Tissues of the Crested Tern Sterna bergii Breeding near an Industrial Port Before and After Harbour Dredging and Ocean Dumping’, Austral. Wildl. Res. 9, 571–577.Google Scholar
  17. Hulse, M., Mahoney, J.S., Hacker, C.S., and Pier, S.M.: 1980, ‘Environmentally Acquired Lead, Cadmium and Manganese in Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis and Laughing Gull, Larus atricilla’, Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 9, 69–78.Google Scholar
  18. Hutton, M.: 1981, ‘Accumulation of Heavy Metals and Selenium in Three Seabird Species from the United Kingdom’, Environ. Polut. 26, 129–145.Google Scholar
  19. Hoffman, R.D. and Curnow, R.D.: 1979, ‘Mercury in Herons, Egrets and their Foods’, J. Wildl. Manage. 43, 85–93.Google Scholar
  20. Lewis, S.A., and Furness, R.W.: 1991, ‘Mercury Accumulation and Excretion in Laboratory Reared Black-Headed Gull Larus ridibundus Chicks’, Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 11, 99–102.Google Scholar
  21. Lundberg, P.: 1984, ‘Mercury in Feathers of Swedish Gyrfalcons, Falco rusticolus, in Relation to Diet’, Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 32, 453–459.Google Scholar
  22. Maedgen, J.L., Hacker, C.S., Schroder, G.D., and Weir, F.W.: 1982, ‘Bioaccumulation of Lead and Cadmium in Royal Tern and Sandwich Tern’, Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 11, 99–102.Google Scholar
  23. Palmer, R.S. (Ed.): 1962, Handbook of North America Birds, Vol. 1, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.Google Scholar
  24. Solonen, T. and Lodenius, M.: 1990, ‘Feathers of Birds of prey as Indicators of Mercury Contamination in Southern Finland’, Holaiclic Ecol. 13, 229–237.Google Scholar
  25. Walsh, P.M.: 1990, ‘The Use of Seabirds as Monitors of Heavy Metals in the Marine Environment’, pp. 183–204, in: R.W. Furness and P.S. Rainbow (Eds.), Heavy Metals in the Marine Environment, CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, Florida.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanna Burger
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mark Pokras
    • 3
  • Rebecca Chafel
    • 3
  • Michael Gochfeld
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  2. 2.Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences InstitutePiscatawayUSA
  3. 3.Department of Environmental Studies, School of Veterinary MedicineTufts UniversityBostonUSA
  4. 4.Environmental and Community MedicineUMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical SchoolPiscatawayUSA

Personalised recommendations