Birds and Environmental Health

environmental health news logo-wideIt has bird week here at State Wildlife Research News, but Environmental Health News is dedicating months to articles reflecting on birds and environmental health. The publication’s Winged Warnings series will contain 16 articles when it concludes in October.

Right now you can read many informative articles about the impacts of heavy metals, toxics, climate change, night lighting and other environmental problems that harm not just birds, but humans as well.

Find the home page for the Winged Warnings series here.

Bird Journal Round-up

Condor cover Aug 14In honor of two major reports on bird conservation released last week, it is going to be bird week here at State Wildlife Research News. First, the science journals. If the State of the Birds has you wondering what and where your state can be doing bird conservation better, the latest issue of The Condor has some answers for you.

Some highlights:
Development, such as farms and the building of transmission lines, in the sagebrush ecosystem favors raven populations over sagebrush specialists, such as ferruginous hawks. Landscape alterations influence differential habitat use of nesting buteos and ravens within sagebrush ecosystem: Implications for transmission line development

Radar analysis has revealed several important fall migratory stop-over sites for birds in the northeastern United States, including coastlines of Long Island Sound, throughout the Delmarva Peninsula, in areas surrounding Baltimore and Washington, along the western edge of the Adirondack Mountains, and within the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia and West Virginia. Radar analysis of fall bird migration stopover sites in the northeastern U.S.

In grasslands, getting rid of trees helps populations of savannah sparrows and sedge wrens much more than improving the quality of the grasslands does. A multiscale assessment of tree avoidance by prairie birds

This issue of the Condor is particularly rich in papers relevant to bird conservation in North America. Check out the table of contents here.

In the Wilson Journal of Ornithology:
Analysis of thousands of eared grebes that died on the Great Salt Lake in December 2011 found that the downed birds had elevated levels of mercury and selenium compared to the eared grebes that migrated through the area without incident. Factors Influencing Mortality of Eared Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis) during a Mass Downing

And No Sex Bias in Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) Captured by Using Audio Playback during the Non-breeding Season

River Otters Exposed to Banned Chemicals

otter teamRiver otters have made a remarkable comeback in the last few decades, particularly in Illinois, as we reported recently. However, those Illinois river otters have significant amounts of long-banned chemicals — such as PCBs and DDE (a chemical that results from the breakdown of DDT) — in their tissues, a recent study from the Illinois Natural History Survey has found.

A press release from the University of Illinois reveals that for one chemical, the concentrations were higher in the otters now than they were when the chemical was in legal use:

The researchers were surprised to find that average concentrations of one of the compounds they analyzed, dieldrin — an insecticide (and byproduct of the pesticide aldrin) that was used across the Midwest before it was banned in 1987 — exceeded those measured in eight river otters collected in Illinois from 1984 to 1989. Liver concentrations of PCBs and DDE (the latter a breakdown product of the banned pesticide DDT) were similar to those in the earlier study, the release says.

Scientifically, this is a mystery still to be solved. Were the chemicals used long after they were banned? Did it take decades for the chemicals to climb the food chain from algae to top predator? Are female otters passing the contaminants to their offspring in their milk?

But for wildlife managers, it has a lesson useful right now. When trying to find causes for unknown population declines, don’t dismiss the effects of toxic chemicals just because those toxic chemicals were banned from use decades ago.

The University of Illinois press release.
The paper, in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety. It is a free access journal.

Photo: Samantha Carpenter (left), a wildlife technical assistant with the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS); Kuldeep Singh, pathobiology professor at the U. of I. Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; Nohra Mateus-Pinilla, an INHS wildlife veterinary epidemiologist; and U. of I. animal sciences professor Jan Novakofski found that Illinois river otters are contaminated with banned pesticides and PCBs.  Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

California Bites the Bullet

condor_ScottFrierCalifornia banned lead ammunition within the range of the endangered California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) in 2008. Now environmental groups are moving to take the ban statewide to protect the condor and other large scavenging birds such as bald eagles from lead poisoning. The National Rifle Association protests.

An article in the San Jose Mercury News reports the NRA saying that because copper bullets cost $40 a box and don’t fly as true, while lead bullets cost $20 a box, the ban is equivalent to a ban on hunting, and that the groups’ ultimate goal is to ban guns. (The article also quotes an Audubon spokesman saying that of course the group does not oppose either hunting nor guns.)

An article in the British newspaper The Guardian links to a recent Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences paper detailing the condors’ vulnerability to lead poisoning from ammunition. It seems the condors are such effective scavengers that even if only one percent of the carcasses or gut piles contain lead ammunition, 30 to 50 percent of the condors will feed from one of them.

Read the San Jose Mercury News article here.
Read The Guardian article here.
Find the PNAS abstract here. (Fee or subscription needed for full access.)

Photo: California condor by Scott Frier, courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department

Raptors and Rat Poison

A second generation of more potent anticoagulant rodenticides (aka, rat poisons) are prevalent in raptors brought to the Tufts Veterinary School wildlife health clinic in Massachusetts, said Maureen Murray of Tufts at a session at the Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference today.

She tested 161 raptors that were brought in dead or died at the clinic for residues of the second generation of rat poisons, which kill by causing the animal to bleed to death. She found that 86 percent of them had residues of the poison in their systems. She also found that amount of rat poison that was fatal to the raptors varied greatly between individuals. For example, on bird appeared to have died with 12 parts per billion (ppb) of the poison in its blood. Another had clearly died of other causes, even though it had 260 ppb.

Murray noted that the EPA has banned the sale of these second generation of poisons to the public, as of June. She suspects the incidence of the poisons in the environment will not decline significantly however, since they will still be available to pest control professionals.

Murray says that poisoning with these anticoagulant rodenticides should be considered when pondering unexplained raptor die-offs.

From the Northeast Fish & Wildlife Conference

Map by Dhaluza

Got shale? Marcellus Shale, that is. Fish and Wildlife agencies in the region should start taking baseline readings now, before gas extraction infrastructure is even in place, advised the US Fish and Wildlife Service at a session at the 67th annual Northeast Fish & Wildlife Conference taking place this week in Manchester, NH.

Extractions from the Marcellus Shale are one of the emerging environmental contaminants the service feels wildlife managers should be aware of. outlined in a session at the conference by  Margaret Byrne and Meagan Racey. Other emerging issues include nanomaterials, particularly the impact of nanosilver, an antimicrobial material found in consumer products that is already being discharged into waterways through sewer systems,  and the impact of climate change on contanimants already in the environment. For example, at higher termpratures mercury forms methyl mercury, a more potent form of the toxic metal.