Pollution, Food Stress Take Toll On Bald Eagles

activity. He later analysed a total of 1,100 hours of videotape.

He counted prey deliveries, the size and type of prey, adult and chick behavior, and how long adults stayed at the nest -- a good measure of how easy it was to find food. "Looking at contaminants was an obvious place to start the study," Gill says, "but we had to consider the possibility that food availability was responsible. We couldn't look at just one thing and expect to find all the answers."

Sure enough, the results suggest that contaminants and food stress are both contributing to the eagles' difficulties, particularly south of the mill where the tide sweeps effluents into a large, reservoir-like bay. "All the contaminants were six to 15 times higher in eaglets south of the mill," says Gill. "North of the mill, contaminants were much lower and nesting success was about 20 per cent higher."

Each contaminant detected in birds south of the mill was below the level estimated to cause lower nesting success. But those estimates don't take into consideration the effects of multiple contaminants, or food stress, says Gill.

"South of the mill, there's a very deep channel which makes it much harder for the birds to catch fish," he explains. Because eagles are territorial -- adults will vigorously chase away intruders -- some nesting pairs get stuck with the poorer fishing areas.

Exactly how contaminants are getting into the Crofton eagle chicks is not known, says Gill, although fish seem the obvious source. More research is planned for this summer. In the meantime, the good news is that contaminant levels from the pulp mills are dropping as time goes on. "There's basically little else that pulp mills can do," says Gill, who sees his study as a valuable baseline for future research on pollution in eagles or any other bird of prey.

"People love bald eagles," says Gill, who still stops to watch whenever he sees one. "It's like killer whales

Contact: Marianne Meadahl
Simon Fraser University

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