To test the hypothesis that fledging wading birds would be more at risk from mercury toxicosis than younger nestlings, captive great egret nestlings were maintained as controls or were dosed from 1- to 14-wk-old with 0.5 or 5 mg methylmercury chloride/kg wet weight in fish. Birds dosed with 5 mg/kg suffered from subacute toxicosis at wk 10–12. Growing feather concentrations were the most closely correlated with cumulative mercury consumed per weight. Blood concentrations of mercury increased more rapidly after 9 wk in all groups when feathers stopped growing. Total mercury accumulated in tissues in concentrations in the following order: growing scapular feathers > powderdown > mature scapular feathers > liver > kidney > blood > muscle > pancreas > brain > bile > fat > eye. The proportion of total mercury that was methylated depended upon tissue type and dose group. Selenium accumulated in liver in direct proportion to liver mercury concentrations. After wk 9, appetite and weight index (weight/bill length) declined significantly in both dosed groups. At current exposure levels in the Everglades (Florida, USA) mercury deposited in rapidly growing feathers may protect nestlings from adverse effects on growth until feathers cease growing.
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Vol. 36 • No. 3