Lead is ubiquitous in the environment, and trace amounts enter the food chain and bioaccumulate in organisms high on the food chain. Although lead levels have been examined in a variety of wild species, effects data are usually from laboratory studies. Thus the relevance of effects to survival and fitness are not directly determined. In the field we compared the behavior of lead-injected young herring gulls (Larus argentatus) to the behavior of their control siblings who received an injection with no lead and to chicks from control nests that received no injections. Lead-injected chicks had significantly lower survival rates than all controls. Lead-injected chicks were less healthy than control chicks as measured by begging and walking scores and by the number of times they stumbled when walking. Control chicks had a higher degree of accuracy when pecking at their parents' bills to stimulate feeding compared to the lead-injected chicks. For all chicks, begging and walking scores improved with age. Behavioral deficits measured in the laboratory are homologous with those observed in the field.
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