Methyl mercury (MeHg) readily passes through biological membranes, accumulates in individuals, and biomagnifies in higher order predators. It is acutely toxic to some birds at 5-15 parts per million (ppm) wet weight in the diet, and it can damage the central nervous system, impair reproduction, and retard growth and development. The effects of MeHg on reproduction in wild raptors are poorly known, and experiments with captive raptors have not included measures of reproductive response. In this study, breeding pairs of captive American kestrels (Falco sparverius) were exposed to environmentally realistic concentrations of MeHg in the diet and their subsequent reproduction was measured. Egg production, incubation performance, and the number of eggs hatched markedly decreased between 3.2 and 4.6 ppm MeHg dry weight in the diet. The percent of eggs hatched declined between 0.75 and 2 ppm MeHg dry weight in the diet and further declined to almost total hatching failure between 3.2 and 4.6 ppm. The number of fledglings and the percent of nestlings fledged were greatly reduced at 0.75 ppm MeHg dry weight in the diet and began a final sharp decline between 2 and 3.2 ppm. Dietary concentrations of > 4.6 ppm MeHg dry weight were associated with total fledging failure. Mercury concentrations in a set of 19 `second-laid? eggs collected from all groups were related to dietary concentrations of MeHg and the reproductive responses of kestrels in each group. Observed percentage declines in fledgling production caused by diets containing >2 ppm MeHg dry weight would result in the production of insufficient numbers of young kestrels for maintenance of wild populations. Concentrations of total Hg in eggs from the highest diet group (5.9 ppm dry weight) were higher than egg concentrations reported for either wild birds or for captive birds fed dry commercial food containing 5 ppm MeHg wet weight.
Additional publication details
Effects of methyl mercury on reproduction in American kestrels
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
Larger Work Title:
Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, Madison, WI, 6-11 August, 2006, Abstract CD.