Concentrations in bird feathers reflect regional contamination with organic pollutants

Sci Total Environ. 2009 Feb 1;407(4):1447-51. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.10.030. Epub 2008 Nov 25.


Feathers have recently been shown to be potentially useful non-destructive biomonitoring tools for organic pollutants. However, the suitability of feathers to monitor regional variations in contamination has not been investigated until now. Here concentrations of organic pollutants were compared in feathers of common magpies (Pica pica) between urban and rural areas in Flanders, Belgium. The results showed that concentrations of p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) were significantly higher in the rural areas (rural: 12-140 ng/g feather, urban: 1.1-7.2 ng/g feather), while polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were significantly more available in an urban environment (sum PCBs--rural: 2.9-22 ng/g feather, urban: 41-240 ng/g feather). This pattern agrees with previous studies using other tissues than feathers as a biomonitoring tool. In addition, differences in PCBs and PBDEs profiles were found with lower halogenated congeners being more prominent in the urban areas in comparison to the rural areas. In summary, feathers seem to reflect regional variations in contamination, which strengthens their usefulness as a non-destructive biomonitor for organic pollutants.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / analysis*
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / pharmacokinetics
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Feathers / chemistry*
  • Feathers / metabolism
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / pharmacokinetics
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / pharmacokinetics
  • Songbirds / metabolism*


  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls