Posted: Jul 25, 2012 7:02 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News
Updated: Jul 26, 2012 6:17 AM
MISSOULA - They're already Internet stars, with people watching their young lives from all over the world.
But now, three osprey chicks have completed their best act, providing valuable data on the health of our environment.
Crown Royal, Captain Hook and Squish were the center of attention Wednesday as they were taken from their nest above Riverside Care Center so they could be marked and tested by University of Montana researchers.
The three hatched last month, and now is a crucial time to get their samples for science, said UM researcher Erick Greene.
"If we went when they were smaller, it's just too hard to get blood samples and the feathers aren't really grown out enough so that we easily get our feather samples," Greene said.
"And they don't know that they can fly yet, well they can't really fly yet," he said. "But if we waited much longer, one risk is that if we went up they would hop out of the nest."
An audience of care center residents and kids from a nearby daycare watched with rapture as these raptors were marked for later identification, and samples were taken to see if their food is contaminated.
"Most important for our research, we took very small blood samples and feather samples," said UM researcher Heiko Langner. "And those will be analyzed for environmental contaminants. So, the heavy metals, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, lead, cooper and selenium, and also, what's turning out to be the really important part of the story is mercury."
Scientists will check these osprey's samples with special interest because it's the closest nest to the old Milltown Dam site, removed a few years ago for water quality.
"These nests are indicators of what happens within a mile up and downstream of Riverside or Hellgate Canyon," Langner said.
"Hopefully we'll see some changes..in water quality that come through Milltown Reservior. And we don't know what to expect," he said.
After a little cleaning of the webcam, careful placement back in the nest, and a spritz, the little family is back on their own, having provided the data important to their own children, and ours.