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Secondary poisoning of kestrels by white phosphorus


Since 1982, extensive waterfowl mortality due to white phosphorous (P4) has been observed at Eagle River Flats, a tidal marsh near Anchorage, Alaska. Ducks and swans that ingest P4 pellets become lethargic and may display severe convulsions. Intoxicated waterfowl attract raptors and gulls that feed on dead or dying birds. To determine if avian predators can be affected by secondary poisoning, we fed American kestrels (Falco sparverius) 10-day-old domestic chickens that had been dosed with white phosphorus. Eight of 15 kestrels fed intact chicks with a pellet of P4 implanted in their crops died within seven days. Three of 15 kestrels fed chicks that had their upper digestive tracts removed to eliminate any pellets of white phosphorus also died. Haematocrit and haemoglobin in kestrels decreased whereas lactate dehydrogenase-L, glucose, and alanine aminotransferase levels in plasma increased with exposure to contaminated chicks. Histological examination of liver and kidneys showed that the incidence and severity of lesions increased when kestrels were fed contaminated chicks. White phosphorus residues were measurable in 87% of the kestrels dying in the study and 20% of the survivors. This study shows that raptors can become intoxicated either by ingesting portions of digestive tracts containing white phosphorus pellets or by consuming tissues of P4-contaminated prey

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Sparling, D.W., Federoff, N.E. Secondary poisoning of kestrels by white phosphorus. Ecotoxicology 6, 239–247 (1997).

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  • whitephosphorus
  • Alaska
  • munitions
  • American kestrels
  • secondarypoisoning