To evaluate the potential toxicity of copper (Cu) in raptors that may consume Cu bullets, shotgun pellets containing Cu, or Cu fragments as they feed on wildlife carcasses, we studied the effects of metallic Cu exposure in a surrogate, the American kestrel (Falco sparverius). Sixteen kestrels were orally administered 5 mg Cu/g body mass in the form of Cu pellets (1.18–2.00 mm in diameter) nine times during 38 days and 10 controls were sham gavaged on the same schedule. With one exception, all birds retained the pellets for at least 1 h, but most (69%) regurgitated pellets during a 12-h monitoring period. Hepatic Cu concentrations were greater in kestrels administered Cu than in controls, but there was no difference in Cu concentrations in the blood between treated and control birds. Concentration of the metal-binding protein metallothionein was greater in male birds that received Cu than in controls, whereas concentrations in female birds that received Cu were similar to control female birds. Hepatic Cu and metallothionein concentrations in kestrels were significantly correlated. Histopathologic alterations were noted in the pancreas of four treated kestrels and two controls, but these changes were not associated with hepatic or renal Cu concentrations, and no lesions were seen in other tissues. No clinical signs were observed, and there was no treatment effect on body mass; concentrations of Cu, hemoglobin, or methemoglobin in the blood; or Cu concentrations in kidney, plasma biochemistries, or hematocrit. Based on the parameters we measured, ingested Cu pellets pose little threat to American kestrels (and presumably phylogenetically related species), although the retention time of pellets in the stomach was of relatively short duration. Birds expected to regurgitate Cu fragments with a frequency similar to kestrels are not likely to be adversely affected by Cu ingestion, but the results of our study do not completely rule out the potential for toxicity in species that might retain Cu fragments for a longer time.
Additional Publication Details
Copper pellets simulating oral exposure to copper ammunition: Absence of toxicity in American kestrels (Falco sparverius)
Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, National Wildlife Health Center