Scientists: Mercury Turns Birds “Gay”

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on December 02 2010 11:20 AM ET

Scientists in Florida and Sri Lanka have found that male birds in wetland habitats respond to mercury contamination by mating with another male.

The Telegraph reports on the findings, which showed that mercury in the diet depresses the testosterone levels of white ibises. Researchers had sought to discover why breeding in the birds was down.

“They found the higher the dose of mercury in the wading birds' food pellets, the more likely a male bird was to pair with another male,” reports The Telegraph. Affected males performed fewer courtship displays, which prompted female birds to ignore them.

During the study, the birds were fed pellets that contained mercury concentrations equivalent to those found in their shrimp and crayfish diet. Wetland habitats like the Florida Everglades are vulnerable to mercury contamination, which comes from burning coal, waste and mine run-off.

Scientists worry that the reduced productivity of the species could be harmful to nature.