Salt toxicity to wild finches

Focus Area

Wildlife & Ecosystems


Natural Resources




Under $99k


Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

Some years, pine
siskins, red crossbills, evening grosbeaks, American goldfinches and other
finches are attracted to roads treated with salt. Observers often report
lethargy and a lack of wariness as the birds stay on the road surface and are
crushed by passing vehicles. The National Wildlife Health Lab will run
toxicology assessments using the brains from carcasses that are submitted to
them but baseline data on normal sodium levels and toxic levels do not exist
for the species most commonly killed. Therefore, judgments about whether
observed levels are within a normal range have to be based on studies done with
Mallards or house sparrows. This produces considerable uncertainty about the
impairment level of birds picked up and submitted to the lab.This research
involves control and treatment birds, with treatment birds receiving salt in
their diet with observations of impairment and death. All birds in the
experiment are sacrificed and sodium levels in brain tissue measured.

Urgency and Payoff

agencies that use salt to de-ice roads have little information to use in
determining the role of salt toxicity in bird mortalities on salted roads.
Better information could allow for more strategic applications of de-icers or
application of mitigating measures to lower the impacts of this practice to

Suggested By

Kelly McAllister Washington State Department of Transportation 360-705-7426

[email protected]