We investigated the possible sources of contamination with organic pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), /p/,/p/'-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and metabolites, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), in and onto tail feathers of a large songbird, the common magpie (Pica pica). Although feathers are potentially useful as a non-destructive biomonitor for organic pollutants, concentrations may be influenced by external contamination onto the feather surface. In a first approach, a group of magpies was captured after the completion of moult. The third tail feather was pulled out and a blood sample was taken. Most PCBs, DDTs and some PBDEs could be quantified in one single tail feather, indicating that the applicability of feathers goes beyond monitoring with predatory birds, as shown previously. Nevertheless, correlations between levels in serum and feathers were found significant in three cases only (i.e. CB 170, CB 180 and CB 187). This finding may be attributed to different factors, such as varying diet, condition, sample size or external contamination. In a second approach, cadavers of magpies were collected throughout Flanders. The preen gland was removed and the first, third and fifth tail feathers were pulled out at both sides. No significant differences were found among tail feathers within an individual. We compared three washing procedures to remove external contamination with organic pollutants from these feathers: deionised water, acetone and a surfactant/acetone solution. Right feathers were washed and left feathers were kept as control. Concentrations in the resulting washes were found highest in the acetone solutions. Furthermore, feathers washed with acetone or with a surfactant/acetone solution had significantly lower mean concentrations than the control feathers. Highest correlations with levels in preen gland were obtained for the control feathers. Consequently, the source of external contamination with organic pollutants onto feathers seems to be endogenous, originating from the preen gland. This is in great contrast to the extensive airborne pollution that has been reported for most heavy metals. In summary, the results of the current study highlight the usefulness of feathers for non-destructive biomonitoring of organic pollutants.
2008. Vol. 34, no 6, 741-8 p.