Anthropogenic emissions of mercury have doubled over the past two centuries. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that threatens human health and fish and wildlife populations. The effects of mercury on birds have been relatively well-studied in the laboratory and in nature. Several aspects of neurology, physiology, behaviour, and reproduction have been shown to be adversely affected. Many studies have documented ataxia, lethargy, reduced appetite, reduced egg production, poor hatching success, and aberrant parental care in birds exposed to mercury.
The majority of the research done to date, however, has been focused on select taxa (waterbirds), trophic levels (piscivores), habitat types (aquatic systems), geographic regions (North America and Europe), and life history stages (reproduction), leaving the assessment of mercury's threats to birds incomplete. Successful bird conservation strategies are dependent on a comprehensive understanding of the threats facing populations. Here, I discuss the significant knowledge gaps that remain and subsequently suggest priorities for future mercury research in birds. Studies of mercury in terrestrial, insectivorous, and/or passerine species, and how mercury affects migration are especially recommended to fill gaps in our present understanding.