This study reports baseline concentrations of mercury (Hg) in feathers from different species of birds sampled at various locations off the Chilean coast (Southeastern Pacific). Hg concentrations were evaluated in relation to geographic location, taxonomic affiliation, and feeding strategies. Between January and March of 1995, we collected mature contour feathers from 116 birds belonging to 22 species, mostly seabirds. Birds were collected from 10 different locations (26?09'S, 70?40'W to 54?56'S, 67?37'W). Feather Hg concentrations ranged from 0.11 to 13 ?g g-1 dry weight. We found differences in feather Hg concentrations across taxonomic groups, with highest concentrations in petrels, shearwaters, and albatrosses (Procellaridae), followed by boobies (Sulidae), gulls, terns, skuas (Laridae) and cormorants (Phalacrocoracidae). Ibises and oystercatchers (Threskiornithidae and Charadriidae) had intermediate values, whereas ducks and geese (Anatidae) contained the least amount of Hg. Oceanic species preying on mesopelagic fish (the Procellariformes albatrosses, petrels, and fulmars) had over twice as much Hg (overall average of 3.9 ?g g-1) when compared to the rest of the species sampled (overall average of 1.5 ?g g-1). We did not find higher Hg concentrations in birds inhabiting the more heavily industrialized and urbanized areas of the country (central and northern regions), but in birds inhabiting the remote Juan Fernandez Archipelago. This is not surprising, since all the Procellariformes (the group with highest Hg values in this study) were collected from these islands. Except for Hg in Kermadec petrels (mean of 12 ?g g-1), the range of Hg values reported here (0.11-7.3 ?g g-1) fell below those known to cause adverse health and reproductive effects in birds.
Additional publication details
Mercury in feathers from Chilean birds: Influence of location, feeding strategy and taxonomic affiliation