Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Potential environmental contaminant risks to avian species at important bird areas in the northeastern United States

January 1, 2007

Environmental contaminants, acting at molecular through population levels of biological organization, can have profound effects upon birds. A screening level risk assessment was conducted that examined potential contaminant threats at 52 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the northeastern Atlantic coast drainage. Using geographic information system methodology, data layers describing or integrating pollutant hazards (impaired waters, fish or wildlife consumption advisories, toxic release inventory data, estimated pesticide use and hazard) were overlaid on buffered IBA boundaries, and the relative contaminant threat for each site was ranked. The 10 sites identified as having the greatest contaminant threats included Jefferson National Forest, Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Park, Adirondack Park, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, George Washington National Forest, Green Mountain National Forest, and Long Island Piping Plover Beaches. These sites accounted for over 50% of the entire study area, and in general had moderate to high percentages of impaired waters, fish consumption advisories related to mercury and PCBs, and were located in counties with substantial application rates of pesticides known to be toxic to birds. Avian species at these IBAs include Federally endangered Roseate terns (Sterna dougallii), threatened piping plovers (Charadrius melodus), neotropical migrants, Bicknell?s thrush (Catharus bicknelli), Swainson?s warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii) and wintering brant geese (Branta bernicla). Extant data for free-ranging birds from the Contaminant Exposure and Effects--Terrestrial Vertebrates database were examined within the buffered boundaries of each IBA, and for a moderate number of sites there was qualitative concordance between the perceived risk and actual contaminant exposure data. However, several of the IBAs with substantial contaminant hazards (e.g., Blue Ridge Parkway, George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah National Park) had no recent avian ecotoxicological data. Contaminant biomonitoring is warranted at such sites, and data generated from such efforts should foster natural resource management activities.

Publication Year 2007
Title Potential environmental contaminant risks to avian species at important bird areas in the northeastern United States
Authors Barnett A. Rattner, B.K. Ackerson
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 5211436
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center