Pollutants affect development in nestling starlings Sturnus vulgaris.
Pollutants as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are of worldwide concern, due to their detrimental effects on the physiology and behaviour of wildlife. One major source of EDCs is sewage treatment works which serve as foraging grounds for many bird species. However, the risks of consuming EDCs to wild birds at these sites have been largely overlooked. We have previously quantified contamination levels of invertebrates from within filter beds of sewage treatment works and the intake rates of these invertebrates by wild European starlings feeding at these sites. Our work to date has shown that environmentally-relevant EDC exposure results in reduced immunocompetence, increased song behaviour and neural development in adult starlings. In the present study, we hypothesized that nestling starlings exposed to similar EDC levels from contaminated prey, from parental feeding at sewage treatment works, would show altered growth and physiology. Our findings show that EDC exposure results in reduced growth and immunocompetence in nestling birds. However, there was no effect on corticosterone or haematocrit levels. As growth rates and immunocompetence are likely to be related to survival rates, we suggest that these exposure levels are likely to adversely affect recruitment into the adult population. Synthesis and applications. These results highlight the potential transfer of EDCs between semi-aquatic or aquatic organisms and terrestrial organisms up the food chain at sites of sewage treatment works, broadening the scope of potential routes of exposure. Our findings suggest that birds foraging in these sites are at risk of physiological manipulation from EDCs and reduced body condition as a result. We advocate further work to evaluate the potential for EDCs from sewage treatment works to bioaccumulate and modulate the condition of wild organisms feeding on contaminated prey. Our results suggest that changes in management practices of sewage treatment works are required. We support measures to reduce EDC levels in sewage treatment works and that these sites should be designed to exclude or deter wildlife from foraging on contaminated prey. The management implications of such policy-oriented steps will ensure the health of wildlife foraging at sewage treatment works.