Skip to main content

Secondary poisoning of kestrels by white phosphorus

Abstract

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

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Addison, R.F. and Ackman, R.G. (1970) Direct determination of elemental phosphorus by liquid-gas chromatography. Journal of Chromatography 47, 217–22.

    Google Scholar 

  • Appelbaum, J., Ben-Hur, N. and Shani, J. (1975) Subcellular morphological changes in the rat kidney after phosphorus burn. Pathology Europa 10, 145–54.

    Google Scholar 

  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) (1994) Toxicological profile for white phosphorus. Atlanta, GA: US Public Health Service.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coburn, D.R., DeWitt, J.B., Derby, Jr, J.V. and Ediger, E. (1950) Phosphorus poisoning in waterfowl. J. Amer. Pharmacol. Assoc. 39, 151–8.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dyer, W.J., Hilitz, D.F., Ackman, R.G., Hingley, J., Fletcher, G.L. and Addison, R.F. (1972) Stability of elemental phosphorus in edible muscle tissue of cod during processing including icing, freezing and thawing, frozen storage, salting, and cooking. J. Fish. Res. Board Can. 29, 1053–60.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fletcher, G.L. (1974) The dynamics of yellow phosphorus in Atlantic cod and Atlantic salmon: biological half-times, uptake rates and distribution in tissues. Environ. Physiol. Biochem. 4, 121–38.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goshal, A.K., Porta, E.A. and Hartcroft, W.S. (1969) The role of lipoperoxidation in the pathogenesis of fatty livers induced by phosphorus poisoning in rats. Amer. J. Pathol. 54, 275–91.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hill, E.F. and Mendenhall, V.M. (1980) Secondary poisoning of barn owls with famphur, an organophosphate insecticide. Journal of Wildlife Management 44, 676–81.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hochleithner, M. (1994) Biochemistries. In Avian Medicine: Principles and Application (B.W. Ritchie, G.J. Harrison and L.R. Harrison, eds) pp. 223–45. Lake Worth, FL: Wingers Publ. Co.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nam, S-I., Roebuck, B.D. and Walsh, M.E. (1994) Uptake and disappearance of white phosphorus in American kestrels. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 13, 637–41.

    Google Scholar 

  • Racine, C.H., Walsh, M.E., Roebuck, B.D., Collins, C.M., Calkins, D., Reitsma, L., Buchli, P. and Goldfarb, G. (1992) White phosphorus poisoning of waterfowl in an Alaskan salt marsh. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 28, 669–73.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roebuck, B.D., Walsh, M.E., Racine, C.H., Reitsma, L., Steele, B. and Nam, S-I. (1994) Predation of ducks poisoned by white phosphorus exposure and risk to predators. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 10, 1613–8.

    Google Scholar 

  • SAS (1987) SAS/STAT for personal computers, version 6 edition. Cary, NC: SAS Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sparling, D.W., Gustafson, M., Klein, P. and Karouna-Renier, N. (in press) Toxicity of white phosphorus to waterfowl: actute exposure in mallards. Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sparling, D.W., Federoff, N.E. Secondary poisoning of kestrels by white phosphorus. Ecotoxicology 6, 239–247 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018630912001

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018630912001

  • whitephosphorus
  • Alaska
  • munitions
  • American kestrels
  • secondarypoisoning