Retrospective biomonitoring of mercury and other elements in museum feathers of common kestrel Falco tinnunculus using instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA)

Paola Movalli*, Peter Bode, René Dekker, Lorenzo Fornasari, Steven van der Mije, Reuven Yosef

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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This study examines the potential to use instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) to explore temporal and geographical variation in exposure to heavy metals and other selected elements in common kestrel Falco tinnunculus using feathers from a natural history collection. The study gathered samples of two breast feathers from each of 16 adult male kestrel specimens from Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, collected in The Netherlands between 1901 and 2001. Feather samples were analysed for more than 50 elements, using INAA at the Reactor Institute Delft. Results (in mg/kg dw) were transformed into ratios of milligram of element per millimetre of feather length. The distribution of the mass fractions and ratios was plotted for each element against time and by geographical area. Observed mass fractions and/or ratios are discussed for selected elements (Hg, Cd, Zn, Pt, Pd, Se, Al, Rb, As, Sb, Cr, V, Cl, Br) known to have, at certain concentrations, adverse effects on raptors. Some samples show mass fractions of certain elements (Cr, Cd, Se, As) above levels known to have adverse effects. We conclude that the analysis of museum feathers using INAA provides reference values for concentrations of selected elements, including those of high societal concern such as Hg and Cd, against which to assess concentrations of these elements in feathers of present-day living raptor populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25986–26005
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number33
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Common kestrel
  • Contaminant
  • Element
  • Exposure
  • Falco tinnunculus
  • Feather
  • INAA
  • Metal
  • Museum specimen
  • Raptor

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