Accumulation of PCB congeners in nestling tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) on the Hudson River, New York

Kathy R. Echols, Donald E. Tillitt, John W. Nichols, Anne L. Secord, John P. McCarty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) were used as a sentinel species to monitor the contamination and bioavailability of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Hudson River watershed. Several tree swallow nest box colonies around and downstream from Hudson Falls, NY, were studied. Tree swallow eggs, adults, and 5-, 10-, and 15-day-old nestlings were collected and analyzed for 103 PCB congeners. Emergent insects collected by net (primarily Odonata) or as a food bolus (primarily Diptera) taken from the mouths of adult tree swallows returning to the nest were analyzed in the same manner. Total PCB concentrations (wet weight) in eggs from two contaminated sites ranged from 9000 to 25 000 ng/g and accumulated to 32 000 and 96 000 ng/g in 15-day-old nestling at two contaminated sites. The congener patterns of PCBs in eggs, nestlings, and adults were compared to those found in emergent insects (Odonata and Diptera) using principal components analysis. The PCB patterns of the biota differed from that of Aroclor technical mixtures. PCB patterns in adult tree swallows were similar to those in eggs, while the patterns in dietary insects were similar to nestling tree swallows. Uptake rate constants were determined for tree swallow nestlings and compared between the two contaminated sites. The estimated PCB congener uptake rate constants were 0.008-0.02 d-1 based on uptake in nestlings until day 15 post-hatch. The rate constants were comparable between the two study areas and may be used to predict nestling contamination at other locations. Our studies confirm the utility of nestling tree swallows to evaluate localized PCB contamination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6240-6246
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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