Organochlorine poisoning of herons

, , and
Compiled by:
William E. Southern



Over a period of years interested individuals have submitted many dead or moribund herons of various species to our laboratory to learn whether the birds had been affected by diseases or organochlorine poisoning. Residue concentrations in carcasses of birds and mammals are considered the best measure of sublethal exposure, whereas residues in brains are best to use for diagnosing death by most organochlorine chemicals (see Heinz et al. 1979 for review).

Residue concentrations in brains that are diagnostic of organochlorine poisoning for birds have been determined in the laboratory for DDT and its metabolites (L.F. Stickel et al. 1966; W.H. Stickel et al. 1970; Stickel and Stickel 1970; W.H. Stickel, pers. comm.); dieldrin (W.H. Stickel et al. 1969; W.H. Stickel, pers. comm.); heptachlor, chlordane, and oxychlordane (L.F. Stickel et al. 1979; W.H. Stickel, pers. comm.); endrin (W.H. Stickel et al. 1979); Aroclor 1254 (W.H. Stickel 1975; W.H. Stickel, pers. comm.); and mirex (W.H. Stickel et al. 1973). This subject is discussed in further detail by Heinz et al. (1979).

The purpose of the present paper is to document the occurrence and concentration of organochlorine residues in the brains of herons from various areas in the United States. By comparing these residue concentrations with laboratory-determined diagnostic lethal levels, we conclude that some herons were killed by organochlorine poisoning; others were at least seriously endangered by the residues they carried.

Complete results of carcass analyses for these and other herons, as well as further details on residues in brains, will be reported elsewhere (H.M. Ohlendorf, D.M. Swineford, and L.N. Locke, unpublished manuscript). Overall, we analyzed carcasses or brains of more than 70 herons found dead or moribund and 36 others taken in planned collections. Residue levels in carcasses of many herons were not high enough to warrant analysis of brains. In the present paper we compare carcass and brain residues of dieldrin in 23 herons of which both carcass and brain were analyzed.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Conference Paper
Publication Subtype:
Conference Paper
Organochlorine poisoning of herons
Year Published:
Waterbird Society
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, National Wildlife Health Center
10 p.
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Conference publication
Larger Work Title:
Proceedings of the 1979 conference of the Colonial Waterbird Group
First page:
Last page:
Conference Title:
1979 conference of the colonial waterbird group
Conference Location:
Lafayette, LA
Conference Date:
October 25-28, 1979
United States
Alabama, Michigan, Vermont
Other Geospatial:
Lake Champlain, Lake Saint Clair, Mobile Bay
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files (Y/N):