Metal content in the liver, kidney, and feathers of Northern gannets, Morus bassanus, sampled on the Spanish coast


The value of birds as bioindicators for monitoring the environmental inorganic elements has been globally recognized. In this context, due to its well-known ecology and population stability, the Northern gannet (Morus bassanus) could be particularly useful. Dead Northern gannets (n = 30) were collected and samples from the liver, kidney, and feathers were taken, dried, mineralized, and finally analyzed via ICP-MS. Metals and metalloids, namely As, Cd, Hg, Pb, and Zn, associated with environmental pollution and toxicity on living organisms, were evaluated. The mean highest concentrations of As, Hg, and Zn were found in the liver (0.916, 7.026, and 89.81 mg/kg dry weight, respectively). For Cd, the kidney showed the highest mean concentration (17.51 mg/kg dry weight), whereas for Pb, this value corresponded to the feathers (0.399 mg/kg dry weight). Significant differences were found between the age classes in terms of contaminant concentrations, with the adults exhibiting higher metal levels. This difference was significantly relevant for Pb and Hg, where the effect of age was observed for all the considered tissues. When considering the effect of gender, no significant differences were observed, in agreement with similar studies performed in other geographical regions. Finally, positive correlations between the concentrations of Hg and Pb in the feathers and in the liver (r = 0.688, p < 0.001 and r = 0.566, p < 0.001, respectively) were observed, as well as between the feather and kidney concentrations (r = 0.685, p < 0.001) indicating the possibility to use feathers, a non-invasive biomonitoring tissue, for better understanding Hg and Pb exposure in seabirds.

Lead (Pb) in the tissues of Anatidae, Ardeidae, Sternidae and Laridae of the Northern Hemisphere: a review of environmental studies

Korbecki, J., Gutowska, I., Chlubek, D. and Baranowska-Bosiacka, I., 2019. Lead (Pb) in the tissues of Anatidae, Ardeidae, Sternidae and Laridae of the Northern Hemisphere: a review of environmental studies. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 26(13), pp.12631-12647.

Due to the ability of birds to travel long distances in the air, the potential feeding area of each individual is much larger than that of typical terrestrial animals. This makes birds a convenient indicator of environmental lead (Pb) pollution over large areas, in particular areas of inland and coastal waters. The aim of this study was to assess the concentrations of Pb in various organs of water birds from a variety of locations. The focus was on ducks, geese and swans (Anatidae); herons and egrets (Ardeidae); terns (Sternidae); and gulls (Laridae). This article describes the level of lead in the most commonly studied tissue types: feathers, bones and the liver. The study also presents data concerning the concentration of lead in the eggs of water birds. The highest levels of lead pollution can be observed in China and Korea, related to their high level of industrialization. In Iran too, environmental lead pollution is high, likely due to the developed petrochemical industry. Lead pollution in Japan, as well as in Western European countries (Spain, France, Italy), seems to be much lower than in China, India or Iran. Nevertheless, the level of pollution in Europe is higher than satisfactory, despite the introduction of a number of bans related to, for example, the use of leaded petrol or lead-containing paints. Finally, the USA and Canada appear to be the areas with the lowest lead pollution, possibly due to their low population densities.

Heavy metal and arsenic content in seabirds affected by the Prestige oil spill on the Galician coast (NW Spain)

Pérez-López, M., Cid, F., Oropesa, A.L., Fidalgo, L.E., Beceiro, A.L. & Soler, F., 2006. Heavy metal and arsenic content in seabirds affected by the Prestige oil spill on the Galician coast (NW Spain). Science of the total environment, 359(1), pp.209-220.

Seabirds are top consumers in marine foodchains which offer opportunities to detect and assess the toxicological effects of different inorganic elements on the marine ecosystem. In order to provide baseline data concerning trace element levels in seabird species from NW Spain, zinc, copper, arsenic, chromium, lead, cadmium and mercury concentrations were analyzed in liver of three different seabird species (common guillemot, Atlantic puffin and razorbill) affected by the Prestige oil spill in September 2002 on the Galician coast. In general, with the exception of mercury, levels of all the analyzed elements were similar or lower in comparison with those reported for the same species in other Atlantic areas, and did not exceed levels indicative of increased environmental exposure.

Effects of nesting yellow-legged gulls (Larus cachinnans Pallas) on the heavy metal content of soils in the Cies Islands (Galicia, North-west Spain)

Otero Pérez, X. L. Effects of nesting yellow-legged gulls (Larus cachinnans Pallas) on the heavy metal content of soils in the Cies Islands (Galicia, North-west Spain). Marine Pollution Bulletin 36, 267–272 (1998).


Cd, Cr, Cu, Pb and Zn levels were determined in faeces of the yellow-legged gull Larus cachinnans in Galicia (NW Spain), and in soils from three breeding and one reference site. The levels of Cd, Cu, Zn and Pb in the soil were significantly higher at the site with highest gull density and with the longest history of use as a breeding site (Percha) than at the reference site. Zn levels were higher than levels of the other metals in all soil and faeces samples. Mean levels of metals in faeces were 305 mg kg-1 (Zn), 60 mg kg-1 (Cu), 40 mg kg-1 (Pb), 9.8 mg kg-1 (Cr) and 5.8 mg kg-1 (Cd).

Seabird feathers as monitors of the levels and persistence of heavy metal pollution after the Prestige oil spill

Moreno, R., Jover, L., Diez, C. & Sanpera, C. Seabird feathers as monitors of the levels and persistence of heavy metal pollution after the Prestige oil spill. Environmental pollution 159, 2454–2460 (2011).


We measured heavy metal concentrations in yellow-legged gulls (n=196) and European shags (n=189) in order to assess the temporal pattern of contaminant exposure following the Prestige oil spill in November 2002. We analysed Pb, Cu, Zn, Cr, Ni and V levels in chick feathers sampled at four colonies during seven post-spill years (2003-2009), and compared results with pre-spill levels obtained from feathers of juvenile shag corpses (grown in spring/summer 2002). Following the Prestige wreck, Cu (4.3-10 mg g-1) and Pb concentrations (1.0e1.4 mg g-1) were, respectively, between two and five times higher than prespill
levels (1.5-3.6 and 0.1-0.4 mg g-1), but returned to previous background concentrations after three years. Our study highlights the suitability of chick feathers of seabirds for assessing the impact of oil spills on heavy metal contamination, and provides the best evidence to date on the persistence of oil pollution after the Prestige incident.