(Katie Valentine, July 22, 2016)
Gone unchecked, the element can lead to sickness, sterility, or even death in breeding shorebirds.
Life in the Arctic has its challenges. The shorebirds that breed there each summer have to complete some of the longest migrations on record. Once they arrive, they’re forced to deal with harsh living and foraging conditions—made worse by the ill effects of a changing climate.
Now scientists are adding another hardship to the list: mercury poisoning. A new study by researchers at McGill University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that Arctic shorebirds are exhibiting high levels of mercury, which could be dangerous for their population numbers. “The concentrations in some were much higher than we would have ever expected for small birds that are foraging on insects,” says Marie Perkins, a PhD candidate at McGill and lead author of the study.
(Margaret Munro, 06 January 2017)
There are almost 30 species of shorebirds that breed in the Canadian Arctic, and all are strongly migratory. Surely the longest of their migrations must count among the most impressive feats in the natural world. Red Knots, for instance, are only nine inches long. And yet, every year, they fly some 9,000 miles from their summertime Arctic nesting territories to their South American vacation hideaways—and then another 9,000 miles back again.
Unfortunately, shorebird population are hurting across the globe. In North America alone, shorebird populations have plummeted by 70 percent since 1973, and among those, birds that breed in the Arctic are especially threatened, writes journalist Margaret Munro in a recent Nature feature. But a workable solution is hard to come by because the birds face a multitude of threats as they make their way across the Western Hemisphere.