Molting feathers may help birds deal with environmental contaminants

July 20, 2017, Wiley
Molting feathers may help birds deal with environmental contaminants. Credit: Margaret Whitney

Mercury is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant that affects the health of birds and other wild animals. Two varieties of songbird—zebra finch and European starling—were found to shed mercury accumulation with their feathers in a recent study.

During a molt, both species quickly eliminated mercury from their blood and significantly reduced mercury concentrations in other tissues. This, coupled with a migration out of contaminated sites, may help birds deal with exposure to .

"It came as no surprise that feather molt accelerated the mercury elimination, but we did not expect the rates to differ so markedly from the non-songbird species that have been studied previously. Understanding species differences as well as how molt contributes to mercury elimination can improve ," said Margaret Whitney, co-author of the Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry study.

Explore further: Mercury emissions in Southeast Asian waters threaten Australian birds

More information: Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry , DOI: 10.1002/etc.3888/full

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