Passerine bird exposure to metal contaminants from oil sands mining in Northeastern Alberta

tree swallow    HG  (1 of 1)

Photo courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

Christine M. Godwin, a Master’s student supervised by Drs. Robert Barclay and Judit Smits at the University of Calgary, studied the level of metal contaminants in passerine birds exposed to waste-materials associated with oil sands mining in the Athabasca region of Alberta. Her study was necessitated because of the growing concern of environmental contamination with heavy metals in tailings process-water and in air emissions from mine upgraders in that region.

As birds are frequently used as bio indicators of metal exposure, Christine measured metal concentrations in passerine birds [Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), Tennessee Warblers (Oreothlypis peregrina), and Chipping Sparrows (Spizella passerina)] and monitored their nest success and nestling growth. She also assessed the metal levels in various insects to study the influence of those insects in introducing metals into the food web of insectivorous passerines.

Interestingly, her study found no evidence of elevated metal levels in the tissues of passerines from near oil sands mining. Her study also highlighted that blood samples from small passerines are not suitable for monitoring metals. More information about this study can be found in the following link for Christine’s thesis, which she successfully defended in December, 2014.

Submitted by CWHC Alberta

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