The external contamination of bird feathers with crude oil might have effects on feather structure and thus on thermoregulation. We tested the thermoregulatory ability of western sandpipers (Calidris mauri) in a respirometry chamber with oil applied either immediately prior, or three days before the experiment. The birds were then exposed to a sliding cold temperature challenge between 27°C and -3°C to calculate thermal conductance. After the experiment, a large blood sample was taken and the liver extracted to measure a range of parameters linked to toxicology and oxidative stress. No differences in thermal conductance were observed among groups, but birds exposed to oil for three days had reduced body temperatures and lost more body mass during that period. At necropsy, oiled birds showed a decrease in plasma albumin and sodium, and an increase in urea. This is reflective of dysfunction in the kidney at the loop of Henle. Birds, especially when exposed to the oil for three days, showed signs of oxidative stress and oxidative damage. These results show that the ingestion of externally applied oil through preening or drinking can cause toxic effects even in low doses, while we did not detect a direct effect of the external oil on thermoregulation over the temperature range tested.
Keywords: Anemia; Oxidative stress; Renal damage; Respirometry; Thermal conductance.
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