Residues of organochlorine pesticides, PCB's, heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals are ubiquitous in the biosphere and are commonly found in tissues and eggs of wild birds. This paper reviews research on the effects of these chemicals, with particular reference to waterfowl. Extensive mortality of waterfowl has occurred in the Gulf Coast region as a result of ingestion of aldrin-treated rice seed. Populations of fulvous tree ducks (Dendrocygna bicolor) have declined in recent years in that area. DDE impaired reproduction of both mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and black ducks (Arias rubripes) in experimental studies, resulting in thin shells, cracked eggs, and poor hatching success. Eggs incubated by the hens broke and cracked more frequently than those in incubators. In the field, residues are higher in ducks that feed on animal material than in vegetarians; differences are pronounced both geographically and among species. Mercury at levels that occur in certain heavily polluted areas in the United States and Canada has, in experimental studies, lowered the reproductive success of mallards and black ducks and reduced the survival of ducklings. Oil spills have killed many waterfowl as a result of oiled feathers and the intake of oil and more indirect physiological effects have been shown experimentally. Pollutants may affect waterfowl indirectly by changing the habitat and directly as a result of intake of toxic substances. They are unlikely to have been directly limiting factors in populations of such species as mallards. Their involvement with problem of other species, including canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) and mergansers has still to be explored.
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Impacts of chemicals on waterfowl reproduction and survival