Scientists turning to birds to monitor contaminated sediments

By on November 27, 2012
A tree swallow in Ohio (Credit: William H. Majoros, via Wikimedia Commons)

Federal scientists are turning to nesting birds like tree swallows to monitor pollution in waterways near nesting sites, according to an article in the journal Nature.

Toxic chemicals in the birds can give a good indication of pollution levels in a lake or stream because the birds often feed on insects that hatch from the sediments. The method is also effective because the swallows don’t travel far from their nests to forage, which means that chemicals in the birds likely came from the immediate area.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists are using the method to evaluate the of dredging of contaminated sediment from Ohio’s Ottawa River, where preliminary data from swallows suggest the project was a success.

Image: A tree swallow in Ohio (Credit: William H. Majoros, via Wikimedia Commons)

About Jeff Gillies

Jeff Brooks-Gillies has written about science, energy and the environment for going on 10 years. He's a native Michigander who, after a stint in Colorado, lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two kids.

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