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White phosphorus (WP) has caused waterfowl die-offs in a tidal saltmarsh used by the U.S. Army for artillery practice for > 40 years. Bald (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)and golden (Aquila chrysaetos) eagles have been observed feeding on dead and dying waterfowl on the marsh and may be exposed to WP through ingestion of contaminated birds. One carcass of each eagle species has been found with measurable levels of WP in fat. To determine if raptors can become intoxicated by ingesting prey that have been exposed to WP we fed live, 10-day-old white leghorn chicks three sublethal doses of WP. Six hrs after the last dose we euthanized the chicks and separated them into two groups--one with the digestive system from gizzard anteriorly removed (NoGut) and one with the digestive system intact and a 1.1 mg pellet of WP implanted deep into the crop (Pel). A third group of same-aged chicks unexposed to WP was used for controls. Fifteen kestrels (Fa/co sparverius) were randomly assigned to each of the treatments and 10 to the control diet. By 7 d of the study 8 of the kestrels had died on the Pel and 3 on the NoGut diet. Survivors on the Pel diet had significantly lower hematocrit, hemoglobin, final body weights and greater liver/body weight ratios and weight loss than control birds. The study showed that raptors and possibly other predators are at risk both when consuming flesh of prey that have succumbed to WP poisoning and when ingesting WP pellets that are incorporated in body parts but that the risk is greater when pellets are present.
Additional Publication Details
Secondary toxicity in raptors caused by white phosphorus