Trace element concentrations in feathers and blood of Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) nestlings from Norway and Spain

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2017 Oct;144:564-571. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2017.06.062. Epub 2017 Jul 5.


Information on trace element pollution in the terrestrial environment and its biota is limited compared to the marine environment. In the present study, we collected body feathers and blood of 37 Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) nestlings from Tromsø (northern Norway), Trondheim (central Norway), and Murcia (southeastern Spain) to study regional exposure, hypothesizing the potential health risks of metals and other trace elements. Blood and body feathers were analyzed by a high resolution inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (HR-ICP-MS) for aluminum (Al), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As), selenium (Se), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb). The influence of regional differences, urbanization and agricultural land usage in proximity to the nesting Northern goshawks was investigated using particular spatial analysis techniques. Most trace elements were detected below literature blood toxicity thresholds, except for elevated concentrations (mean ± SD µgml-1 ww) found for Zn (5.4 ± 1.5), Cd (0.00023 ± 0.0002), and Hg (0.021 ± 0.01). Corresponding mean concentrations in feathers (mean ± SD µgg-1 dw) were 82.0 ± 12.4, 0.0018 ± 0.002, and 0.26 ± 0.2 for Zn, Cd and Hg respectively. Multiple linear regressions indicated region was a significant factor influencing Al, Zn, Se and Hg feather concentrations. Blood Cd and Hg concentrations were significantly influenced by agricultural land cover. Urbanization did not have a significant impact on trace element concentrations in either blood or feathers. Overall metal and trace element levels do not indicate a high risk for toxic effects in the nestlings. Levels of Cd in Tromsø and Hg in Trondheim were however above sub-lethal toxic threshold levels. For holistic risk assessment purposes it is important that the concentrations found in the nestlings of this study indicate that terrestrial raptors are exposed to various trace elements.

Keywords: Agriculture; Biomonitoring; Bird of prey; Blood; Feathers; GIS; Metal pollution; Terrestrial; Urbanization.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Falconiformes / blood*
  • Feathers / chemistry*
  • Linear Models
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Metals, Heavy / blood
  • Norway
  • Selenium / analysis
  • Spain
  • Trace Elements / analysis*
  • Trace Elements / blood


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Trace Elements
  • Selenium
  • Arsenic