Reproductive effects in birds exposed to pesticides and industrial chemicals

Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Oct;103 Suppl 7(Suppl 7):165-71. doi: 10.1289/ehp.95103s7165.


Environmental contamination by agricultural chemicals and industrial waste disposal results in adverse effects on reproduction of exposed birds. The diversity of pollutants results in physiological effects at several levels, including direct effects on breeding adults as well as developmental effects on embryos. The effects on embryos include mortality or reduced hatchability, failure of chicks to thrive (wasting syndrome), and teratological effects producing skeletal abnormalities and impaired differentiation of the reproductive and nervous systems through mechanisms of hormonal mimicking of estrogens. The range of chemical effects on adult birds covers acute mortality, sublethal stress, reduced fertility, suppression of egg formation, eggshell thinning, and impaired incubation and chick rearing behaviors. The types of pollutants shown to cause reproductive effects include organochlorine pesticides and industrial pollutants, organophosphate pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and in a fewer number of reports, herbicides, and fungicides. o,p'-DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and mixtures of organochlorines have been identified as environmental estrogens affecting populations of gulls breeding in polluted "hot spots" in southern California, the Great Lakes, and Puget Sound. Estrogenic organochlorines represent an important class of toxicants to birds because differentiation of the avian reproductive system is estrogen dependent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Chemical Industry*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Insecticides / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Sex Differentiation / drug effects


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Insecticides
  • Pesticides