Contamination by neonicotinoid insecticides in Barn owls (Tyto alba) and Alpine swifts (Tachymarptis melba)

Ségolène Humann-Guilleminot* (Corresponding Author), Shirley Laurent, Pierre Bize, Alexandre Roulin, Gaétan Glauser, Fabrice Helfenstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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Monitoring the extent to which wildlife is exposed to the broadly used neonicotinoid insecticides (NNIs) is essential to assess their potential negative effects on biodiversity. Birds are good subjects to assess such exposure, because they inhabit various habitats and they feed at different trophic levels. However, so far, most studies have focused on the contamination of granivorous species. In this study, we assess the concentrations of five NNIs (acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam) in the carnivorous Barn owl (Tyto Alba), and the insectivorous Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba). NNIs were measured in the Barn owl in feathers collected from nestlings in 2012 (n = 49 broods) and adults in 2016 (n = 58 individuals), and in the Alpine swift from feathers collected from 50 pooled nestling samples from 50 nests between 2004 and 2017 (nestlings raised in five different nests over ten years; n= 50 broods), plasma samples from adults in 2018 (n = 15), and food boluses collected from nestling provisioning adults in 2018 (n = 12). We found that 69% and 56.9% of Barn owl feathers from nestlings and adults respectively contained at least one NNI at measurable concentration. Mean ± SE and median concentration (in ppb) of total NNIs were 0.66± 1.13 and 0.42 for nestlings, and 0.17 ± 0.57 and 0.04 for adults. In the Alpine swift, although we detected no NNI in nestling feathers, we found that 75% of food boluses and 20% adult plasma samples contained at least one NNI at measurable concentration. Mean ± SE and median concentrations (in ppb) of total NNIs were 0.24 ± 0.20 and 0.24 in food boluses, and 0.06 ± 0.13 and 0 in plasma. In view of these results, further research is warranted to determine the extent of contamination in non-granivorous birds and their potential effects.
Original languageEnglish
Article number147403
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date29 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

We thank all the students and volunteers who helped us in their fields. This study was supported by a Swiss National Science Foundation overheads grant, a grant from the Federal Office for the Environment and an SNSF-förderungs professor grant to FH. Photographs used in the graphical abstract are copyrights of Alexandre Roulin, Pierre Bize and Shirley Laurent. The authors bear sole responsibility for the content and declare no conflict of interest.


  • Neonicotinoids
  • Barn owls
  • Alpine swifts
  • Feathers
  • Plasma
  • Food boluses


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