California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) foods and feathers, and turkey vultures (Cathartes aura), common ravens (Corvus corax), and their eggs were collected within the condor range to determine exposure of condors to environmental contaminants. Samples were analyzed for organochlorines and trace elements. Food items contained low concentrations of organochlorines and generally low concentrations of lead. DDE was detected in all vulture carcasses and nearly all raven carcasses at generally moderate concentrations. Other organochlorines occurred infrequently in carcasses and generally at low concentrations. Turkey vulture eggshells were 16% thinner than the pre-DDT mean; there was no change in shell thickness of raven eggs. Vulture eggs contained an average of 6.9 ppm DDE and two contained excessive concentrations of endrin. DDE concentrations were low in raven eggs. Residues of As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Hg, Ni, Se, Tl, and Zn in tissues of vultures and ravens appeared normal when compared with reference values for other species. Lead concentrations in bone of turkey vultures and feathers of condors appeared to be elevated above normal background concentrations in some cases. Current exposure of condors to organochlorines appears low; however, we are concerned about the excessive exposure of turkey vultures to organochlorines, possibly in Central America. Lead exposure to vultures and condors has occurred, but its significance to their populations is unknown.
Additional publication details
Environmental contaminants in surrogates, foods, and feathers of California condors (Gymnogyps californianus)