One-day-old mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) ducklings were given drinking water for up to 28 days that contained concentrations of sodium and/or magnesium similar to those found in saline wetlands. Growth, tissue development, and biochemical characteristics of these ducklings were compared to those reared on fresh water. Much of the ingested salt was excreted by passage of voluminous fluid excreta. This effect occurred in birds given water with as little as 500 ppm Mg or 1,000 ppm Na. The supraorbital salt gland was active within 4 days in ducklings drinking water containing ≥ 1,500 ppm of Na. Feather growth was decreased in ducklings drinking water with ≥ 1,500 ppm of either Na or Mg. Ducklings drinking water with 3,000 ppm of either ion, or 1,500 ppm of each, grew more slowly than control birds. Ducklings drinking water with 3,000 ppm of either Na or Mg had reduced thymus size and bone breaking strength. Those drinking water with 3,000 ppm of Mg, or 3,100 ppm Na and 1,300 ppm Mg also had less trabecular bone and enlarged adrenals. Birds drinking the latter water had an elevated concentration of Na and calcium, and a decreased concentration of phosphorus and chloride in their serum, and elevated plasma protein levels. Ducklings reared on fresh or slightly saline water adapted very poorly to an abrupt change to more saline water (specific conductivity = 15,250 μmhos/cm) at 14 days of age. These birds stopped eating, became inactive and some died within 3 days; survivors had many tissue and biochemical abnormalities at 20 days of age. The level of salinity in these trials was similar to that in “brackish” or “moderately saline” wetlands and lower than that previously found to have effects on growth and feathering of ducklings. Many of the sublethal effects were subtle and non-specific manifestations of stress, and would be difficult to detect in wild ducklings on saline wetlands.
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