Premature feather loss among common tern chicks in Ontario: The return of an enigmatic developmental anomaly

Jennifer Marie Arnold, Donald J. Tyerman, Doug Crump, Kim L. Williams, Stephen A. Oswald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In July 2014, we observed premature feather loss (PFL) among non-sibling, common tern Sterna hirundo chicks between two and four weeks of age at Gull Island in northern Lake Ontario, Canada. Rarely observed in wild birds, to our knowledge PFL has not been recorded in terns since 1974, despite the subsequent banding of hundreds of thousands of tern chicks across North America alone. The prevalence, 5% of chicks (9/167), and extent of feather loss we report is more extreme than in previous reports for common terns but was not accompanied by other aberrant developmental or physical deformities. Complete feather loss from all body areas (wing, tail, head and body) occurred over a period of a few days but all affected chicks appeared vigorous and quickly began to grow replacement feathers. All but one chick (recovered dead and submitted for post-mortem) most likely fledged 10-20 days after normal fledging age. We found no evidence of feather dystrophy or concurrent developmental abnormalities unusual among affected chicks. Thus, the PFL we observed among common terns in 2014 was largely of unknown origin. There was striking temporal association between the onset of PFL and persistent strong southwesterly winds that caused extensive mixing of near-shore surface water with cool, deep lake waters. One hypothesis is that PFL may have been caused by unidentified pathogens or toxins welling up from these deep waters along the shoreline but current data are insufficient to test this. PFL was not observed among common terns at Gull Island in 2015, although we did observe similar feather loss in a herring gull Larus argentatus chick in that year. Comparison with sporadic records of PFL in other seabirds suggests that PFL may be a rare, but non-specific, response to a range of potential stressors. PFL is now known for gulls, penguins and terns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1959
JournalPeerJ
Volume2016
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Fingerprint

Charadriiformes
Feathers
Ontario
Laridae
feathers
chicks
Larus argentatus
Lakes
Islands
Water
Spheniscidae
Sterna hirundo
Birds
Pathogens
Sternum
Lake Ontario
Surface waters
abnormal development
wild birds
penguins

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

Cite this

Arnold, Jennifer Marie ; Tyerman, Donald J. ; Crump, Doug ; Williams, Kim L. ; Oswald, Stephen A. / Premature feather loss among common tern chicks in Ontario : The return of an enigmatic developmental anomaly. In: PeerJ. 2016 ; Vol. 2016, No. 5.
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abstract = "In July 2014, we observed premature feather loss (PFL) among non-sibling, common tern Sterna hirundo chicks between two and four weeks of age at Gull Island in northern Lake Ontario, Canada. Rarely observed in wild birds, to our knowledge PFL has not been recorded in terns since 1974, despite the subsequent banding of hundreds of thousands of tern chicks across North America alone. The prevalence, 5{\%} of chicks (9/167), and extent of feather loss we report is more extreme than in previous reports for common terns but was not accompanied by other aberrant developmental or physical deformities. Complete feather loss from all body areas (wing, tail, head and body) occurred over a period of a few days but all affected chicks appeared vigorous and quickly began to grow replacement feathers. All but one chick (recovered dead and submitted for post-mortem) most likely fledged 10-20 days after normal fledging age. We found no evidence of feather dystrophy or concurrent developmental abnormalities unusual among affected chicks. Thus, the PFL we observed among common terns in 2014 was largely of unknown origin. There was striking temporal association between the onset of PFL and persistent strong southwesterly winds that caused extensive mixing of near-shore surface water with cool, deep lake waters. One hypothesis is that PFL may have been caused by unidentified pathogens or toxins welling up from these deep waters along the shoreline but current data are insufficient to test this. PFL was not observed among common terns at Gull Island in 2015, although we did observe similar feather loss in a herring gull Larus argentatus chick in that year. Comparison with sporadic records of PFL in other seabirds suggests that PFL may be a rare, but non-specific, response to a range of potential stressors. PFL is now known for gulls, penguins and terns.",
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Premature feather loss among common tern chicks in Ontario : The return of an enigmatic developmental anomaly. / Arnold, Jennifer Marie; Tyerman, Donald J.; Crump, Doug; Williams, Kim L.; Oswald, Stephen A.

In: PeerJ, Vol. 2016, No. 5, e1959, 01.01.2016.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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