Element Concentrations in Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) from the U.S. and Binational Great Lakes Areas of Concern

  • Thomas W. Custer
  • Christine M. CusterEmail author
  • Paul M. Dummer
  • Diana Goldberg
  • J. Christian Franson


Selected elements were targeted in state Remedial Action Plans as one group of chemicals affecting the Beneficial Use Impairments of Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs). Livers of nestling tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, were harvested from 76 sites in the Great Lakes, which included multiple sites at 27 AOCs and 12 reference sites from 2010 to 2015, and were analyzed for 21 elements. Mercury concentrations were at background levels at all sites. Elevated cadmium (Cd) concentrations were associated with industry. The highest Cd values were from the Black River, OH AOC and were associated with historic coke production but were not at toxic levels. Lead (Pb) concentrations were highest on the Rouge River, MI AOC—the oldest and most heavily populated and industrialized area in southeast Michigan. Individual Pb concentrations were elevated to a level associated with delta-aminolaevulinic acid dehydratase inhibition but not to a level considered toxic. In contrast, livers harvested from sites on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan had selenium (Se) concentrations elevated to levels associated with reduced avian reproduction. One likely source of the high Se concentrations was pollution from a local coal-fired power plant. Concentrations of the remaining elements were at background levels.



This work was funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and USGS, Environmental Health Mission Area. The authors thank Christopher Balk, Greg Berner, Crystal Bole, Peggy Boone, Rod Booth, Jr., Amanda Bosak, Andrew Haertel, Aaron Heimann, Yvette Hernandez, Melanie Iverson, Matthew Larkin, Adam Lorenz, Sean O’Mara, Ron Mayer, Patrick McKann, Karen McMullen, Melissa Meier, Kristina Artner Mott, Kelsey Prestby, Darin Ripp, Paul Ripple, Clif Schneider, Laura Solem, Dan Tagerson, Joshua Teslaa, Jocelyn Tschaikovsky, Max Weber, and Tesha Zimmerman for field assistance. This work could not have been done without the access granted by more than 75 landowners; their accommodations for our activities were greatly appreciated. The authors also thank Eileen Kirsch, Kevin Kenow, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain studies with human participants, and all procedures performed were approved by the institution’s Animal Care and Use Committee.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 157 kb)
244_2019_601_MOESM2_ESM.pptx (310 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PPTX 310 kb)


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas W. Custer
    • 1
  • Christine M. Custer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul M. Dummer
    • 1
  • Diana Goldberg
    • 2
  • J. Christian Franson
    • 2
  1. 1.Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences CenterU.S. Geological SurveyLa CrosseUSA
  2. 2.National Wildlife Health CenterU.S. Geological SurveyMadisonUSA

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