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Determination of Heavy Metals in Pigeon Feathers

Determination of Heavy Metals in Pigeon Feathers


  • Rajeshwari Acharya and Asha Sharma



Metal determination using pigeon feather is most common method of biological monitoring for screening, diagnosis and assessment of mental exposure and its risks. Pigeon feather were collected from different area of Ajmer city of Rajasthan (India) and were analyzed for lead (Pb), Copper (Cu), Chromium (Cr) and Zinc (Zn) by atomic absorption spectrophotometry.

We found that the concentration of lead (Pb) was significantly higher at Bajrangarh circle [9.08±0.44 ppm d/w, Copper (Cu) at Pushkar 12.00 ±1.33ppm d/w, Zinc (Zn) at Pushkar [157.17±12.8 ppm d/w, and Chromium (Cr) at Pushkar 14.28±0.19 ppm d/w. Heavy metal concentration in Pigeon feathers appears to provide reasonably realistic back ground values for Pb, Cu, Zn and Cr in Ajmer city.

Key words: Primary Pigeon feather, Heavy metal, Environment pollution, AAS


Human impact on the natural environment has increased as a consequence of rising population numbers and technological development. The presence of pollutants such as heavy metals in the environment presents great risks for all living organisms. In doing so man has inadvertently upset the crucial environmental balance of nature. This has led to undue exposure of human beings to the hazards of potential contaminants. Heavy metal contamination occurs in aqueous waste of many industries such as electroplating, paint and textile manufacturing industries, leather tanning industries, iron and steel industries and metal finishing industries etc and are ultimately disposed to land or into water courses. Water has to be treated to prevent any injury to aquatic life in the receiving water source [Vasanthy and Sangeetha 2006].

To detect the occurrence and the effects of heavy metals, monitoring programs, which measure the concentrations in the different compartments of the environment and in biota, have been developed (Burger and Furness, 1993).

Biomonitoring is a new branch of science, and direct qualitative and quantitative assessment of exposure of a group of persons or individual to toxious agents present in the environment. The use of bio-indicators such as blood, serum, plasma, hair, nail etc. has been a subject of study by international agency and few researchers, [Mehra et al, 2004, Sreedhar et al 2008, Sela et al 2007].

Levels of heavy metals detected from feathers therefore are the sum of the endogenous and exogenous fractions. The exogenous fraction results from contamination during preening and direct exposure to environmental contaminats [dry and wet deposition, sand, dust, immersion in water, and contact with soil and vegetation] [Weyers et al 1988]. The endogenous fraction results from metals carried by the bloodstream that bind to Keratin when feathers are formed. [Burger 1993, Weyers et al 2002].

Feathers thus contain information about circulating heavy metal concentration in the blood at the time of their development. Moreover feathers can be easily collected and stored at room temperature and a small number can be removed without causing damage. This paper deals with metal levels of Cu, Zn, Cr and Pb in primary pigeon feathers of different areas of Ajmer city. The main aim of this study is to assess heavy metal contamination in different area of Ajmer city by using Pigeon feather as a non-invasive bio-indicator.


In this research, pigeon feather as experiment materials and determined the level of exposure to lead (Pb), Copper (Cu), Chromium (Cr) and Zinc (Zn), values through Feather in Ajmer. Samples of pigeon feather were collected from different areas of Ajmer city. The feather sample (1 gm) was sealed in a plastic cover after it was rinsed for wet acid digestion; dried samples were digested with 10ml of 8:2 mixtures of concentrated nitric acid and perchloric acid. These samples were subsequently heated for 8 to 12 hours until the mixture was water clear and less than 1 ml of the solution remained. After cooling each sample, the solution was diluted up to 10 ml. with deionized water. Quantitative analysis of the metals was done by using atomic absorption spectrophotometer [AAS] with air acetylene flame. The results are represented as g/gram dry weight.

Results and Discussions: –

Table- 1 Trace metal concentration (mean SE, g/dry g) of selected metals in feather of pigeon at different regions of Ajmer city, India.

Experimental areas Concentration of metals in ppm
Pb Cu Zn Cr
Bajrang-garh circle 9.08±0.04


4.58±1.08 a 91.83±5.08 c 7.45±0.23


Kesharganj 7.26±0.43


8.31±1.74 b 110.50±10.51 c 13.73±1.13


Pushkar 4.63±0.87 a 12.00±1.33 b 157.15±12.8 c 14.28±0.19


Anasagar 8.83±0.21


9.88±2.40 ns 91.41±1.29 c 12.55±0.20


Foysagar 5.65±0.27 c 8.88±1.78 ns 89.50±8.08 c 12.57±2.59 a
Hathikhera village (Reference Site) 1.10±0.05 2.73±0.19 4.53±0.76 1.70±0.35
a-P(<0.05) b-P(< 0.01) ND
almost significant significant not detectable

The result of the quantitative analysis of primary pigeon feather for Pb, Cu, Zn and Cr are given in table-1. The samples were analyzed categorized according to different areas of Ajmer city. The highest concentration of lead was found at Bajranggarh circle (table-1). The mean value is 9.08 ppm d/w. Here Pb is used in smelting, painting, and in motor fuels. In this area Pb concentration was relatively higher than other polluted site. The concentration of Pb (lead) were significantly higher (P<0.001) at polluted site Bajranggarh Circle (9.08Lowest concentration of Pb was found at reference site at village Hathikhera, because there is not much traffic load and village is covered with greenery.ï€

urger and Gochfeld (2000) (2003) reported that Birds are ideal as models for lead toxicity because they rely on visual and vocal communication, a trait they share with human, whereas rodents rely largely on tactile, olfactory and Ultrasonic modes of communication.

Feather can be used as an indicator for both acute and chronic lead exposure since lead is stored in the feather months after digestion and can reflect metabolic changes of the body over long period of time due to external and internal conditions.

Seth (1998) reported that lead has been one of the causes for heart ailments. It raises the blood pressure through its attack on the specific sites and cellular elements of the nervous system.

Higher concentration of Cu was found significant at the level of P<0.01 in Pushkar [12.00ppm d/w. Copper can be released into the urban environment by both natural sources and human activities. In this area copper is being used in phosphate fertilizer and waste combustion. Here large amount of suspended solid and synthetic chemicals are mixed in the water. Also such condition has adverse effects on the environment and public health.

According to (Table-1) the highest Zinc concentration was found at polluted site Pushkar. Concentration value of Zn at Pushkar is [157.17 ppm d/w it is significant at P<0.01 level.) Zinc occurs naturally in air, water, and soil but zinc concentration is rising unnaturally due to addition of zinc through human activities. In this area zinc is used dye, leather workshops and it’s used in steel processing. Effluents from textile industry sewage generally contain synthetic chemicals, dyes, and heavy metal which are disposed in Pushkar.

Cu and Zn are essential to the wildlife, and birds often can accumulate a large quantity in their body and feather.

Sunde 1972 reported that zinc is an essential heavy metal that is required for normal feather formation. Zinc can be toxic if exposure is excessive.

The concentration value of Cr at P<0.01 (14.28ppm d/w In Pushkar area, there are many irons casting furnace where poor quality of coal is used, which are contributing significantly to metal pollution. Through coal combustion chromium ends up in air and through waste disposal chromium ends up in soil. Singh et al (1993) reported that chromium is essential for plant and animal metabolism, but when its accumulation becomes high it can cause lung cancer. As the concentration reaches 0.1 mg/g of body weight, it becomes lethal. Chromium VI is more toxic to bacteria, plants and animals. According to the results of the present investigation, it can be concluded that the concentration of Lead, Copper, Chromium and Zinc were highest in the primaries. It has been suggested that external contamination of feathers from direct atmospheric deposition or from secretion of the urapygial gland smeared on to the feathers during preening can change the concentration after they were formed (Dauwe et al, 2002).

Present study shows that among all feathers higher concentration of metal was observed in primary feathers. This may be supported by the evidences like it takes more days to grow and hence more concentration of metal may accumulate in the feathers through blood circulation and it has been proved by many workers that heavy metals mostly accumulate in the feathers during its growth. The reason of higher level of heavy metal in primary and tail feathers may be due to external deposition of metals because they are more in contact with the atmosphere. It may also be explained that when the wing is folded, innermost primaries and may thus be protected from external contamination. Outermost primaries may also be more preened than the innermost primaries.

The study has firmly established the value of feathers analysis as bio-indicators of heavy metal contamination. At least this study holds out a promise where feather can be used as bio-indicators, since it does not involve either disturbing or killing of an animal to study the exposure.


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