Study finds PCBs can change the songs birds sing

Sep 24, 2013

Chemicals called PCBs - or polychlorinated biphenyls - are toxic to people and wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency says they can cause cancer and other adverse health effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems. PCBs were banned in the 1970s, but they’re still in the environment.

Researchers at Cornell University have previously found that PCBs can change the song centers in the brains of songbirds.

Now – a new study suggests that PCBs could be altering the songs some birds sing.

Sara DeLeon is the lead author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher at Drexel University.

She studied black-capped chickadees and song sparrows in the Hudson River Valley, a region with legacy PCB pollution from electronics manufacturing.

“Even though the PCBs were primarily deposited into the water, the terrestrial birds were encountering them and so they had the presence of PCBs in their blood. Then, we were able to successfully quantify what type of PCBs they had in their blood without destructively sampling them, which was a really great thing. We also were able to see that in areas of high PCBs the birds were singing slightly different songs that could be really biologically important to them.”

You can listen to the interview above to find out more.

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