Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Lead accumulation in feathers of nestling black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) experimentally treated in the field

June 16, 2010

Although lead can attain high concentrations in feathers, interpretation of the biological significance of this phenomenon is difficult. As part of an effort to develop and validate non-invasive methods to monitor contaminant exposure in free-ranging birds, lead uptake by feathers of nestling black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) was evaluated in a controlled exposure study. Four to six day-old heron nestlings (one/nest) at Chincoteague Bay, Virginia, received a single intraperitoneal injection of dosing vehicle (control; n=7) or a dose of lead nitrate in water (0.01, 0.05, or 0.25 mg Pb/g body weight of nestling; n=6 or 7/dose) chosen to yield feather lead concentrations found at low to moderately polluted sites. Nestlings were euthanized at 15 days of age. Lead accumulation in feathers was associated with concentrations in bone, kidney, and liver (r = 0.32 - 0.74, p < 0.02), but exhibited only modest dose-dependence. Blood delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase activity was inhibited by lead, although effects on other biochemical endpoints were marginal. Tarsus growth rate was inversely related to feather lead concentration. Culmen growth rate was depressed in nestlings treated with the highest dose of lead, but not correlated with feather lead concentration. These findings provide evidence that feathers of nestling herons are a sensitive indicator of lead exposure and have potential application for the extrapolation of lead concentrations in other tissues and the estimation of environmental lead exposure in birds.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2003
Title Lead accumulation in feathers of nestling black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) experimentally treated in the field
DOI
Authors N. H. Golden, B. A. Rattner, J.B. Cohen, D. J. Hoffman, E. Russek-Cohen, M. A. Ottinger
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Series Number
Index ID 5224253
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center