, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 1072–1083 | Cite as

The use of feathers in monitoring bioaccumulation of metals and metalloids in the South African endangered African grass-owl (Tyto capensis)



Few studies have quantified metals in South African species and no published data on residues specifically in South African owl feathers exist. Tyto capensis is listed as vulnerable within South Africa, making it preferable to use a non-invasive technique to determine metal bioaccumulation for this species. Comparisons are made with the cosmopolitan T. alba to determine whether this species could be used as a surrogate. Concentrations of various metals were thus determined in feathers of the two species and compared with liver and muscle samples. Samples were taken from 119 owls collected as road kill along a national road. A comparison of concentrations in feathers revealed similarly higher concentrations of aluminium, antimony, lead, nickel, and strontium, whereas concentrations of chromium, copper, iron, manganese, selenium, titanium and zinc were similarly higher in internal tissues for both species. Metal concentrations of owls were comparable to those reported in literature and below toxic levels, suggesting that these metals were not likely to impact the owls. Further regressions between feathers and corresponding livers were examined to determine if feathers were indicative of internal metal burdens. Significant positive relationships were found for aluminium, copper, lead, nickel and vanadium in T. alba and nickel, manganese and vanadium in T. capensis. Preliminary results support the feasibility of using feathers as non-destructive indicators of environmental contamination in T. capensis although caution needs to be taken when interpreting the results.


Feathers Metals Owls South Africa Tyto capensis 



The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. We are grateful to Mr Paul Jooste for help with the field work and daily collection of the owl samples. This study was supported by the National Research Foundation and by the University of Johannesburg.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Water Research Group (Ecotoxicology), Research Unit for Environmental Science and Management, School of Biological Sciences, Potchefstroom CampusNorth West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa

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