As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Feathers hold key to proof of bird health

Bird feathers appear to be simplistic structures, but a catalogue of chemicals and environmental contaminants resides deep inside them, scientists report. And these can be used to measure a bird's health.

Researchers at Sydney's nuclear reactor have X-rayed the feathers of migratory birds and identified tree ring-like patterns of trace elements such as zinc and bromine as well as elevated levels of heavy metals including arsenic. The research leader, Professor Richard Banati, said migratory birds were ideal to study because they were ''a flying bio-monitor of environment stressors around the globe''. Until now, scientists had no idea simple feathers with no distinguishing features would hold detailed records of a bird's metabolism. The regular spacing of the bands along the length of the feathers suggested the chemicals circulated within the animal's body as the feathers grew, which made them ideal biomarkers to assess the health impact of marine pollutants, Professor Banati said. ''In the future we can look at this technique to get a historical record of [a bird's] fertility and diet, and make predictions about its future health and lifespan,'' he said. Professor Banati holds a distinguish research fellowship at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

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