Potential hazards of environmental contaminants to avifauna residing in the Chesapeake Bay Estuary

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Edited by:
R. Michael Erwin, Bryan D. Watts, G.Michael Haramis, Matthew C. Perry (Edited By), and Keith A. Hobson


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A search of the Contaminant Exposure and Effects-Terrestrial Vertebrates (CEE-TV) database revealed that 70% of the 839 Chesapeake Bay records deal with avian species. Studies conducted on waterbirds in the past 15 years indicate that organochlorine contaminants have declined in eggs and tissues, although p,p?DDE, total polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and coplanar PCB congeners may still exert sublethal and reproductive effects in some locations. There have been numerous reports of avian die-off events related to organophosphorus and carbamate pesticides. More contemporary contaminants (e.g., alkylphenols, ethoxylates, pertluorinated compounds, polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are detectable in bird eggs in the most industrialized portions of the Bay, but interpretation of these data is difficult because adverse effect levels are incompletely known for birds. Two moderate-sized oil spills resulted in the death of several hundred birds, and about 500 smaller spill events occur annually in the watershed. With the exception of lead, concentrations of cadmium, mercury, and selenium in eggs and tissues appear to be below toxic thresholds for waterbirds. Fishing tackle and discarded plastics, that can entangle and kill young and adults, are prevalent in nests in some Bay tributaries. It is apparent that exposure and potential effects of several classes of contaminants (e.g., dioxins, dibenzofurans, rodenticides, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, lead shot, and some metals) have not been systematically examined in the past 15 years, highlighting the need for toxicological evaluation of birds found dead, and perhaps an avian ecotoxicological monitoring program. Although oil spills, spent lead shot, some pesticides, and industrial pollutants occasionally harm Chesapeake avifauna, contaminants no longer evoke the population level effects that were observed in Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) and Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) through the 1970s.

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Publication type:
Book chapter
Publication Subtype:
Book Chapter
Potential hazards of environmental contaminants to avifauna residing in the Chesapeake Bay Estuary
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Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
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Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
Larger Work Title:
Waterbirds of the Chesapeake Bay and Vicinity: Harbingers of Change?
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