MINNEAPOLIS -- Bald eagles are not just our national symbol; they help scientists keep track of chemicals in the environment that can harm people.
"I think it's a really good assessment just like a canary in a coal mine, or what we might be exposed to," said Bill Route, a National Park Service ecologist.
It may be an eaglet on the Mississippi river instead of a canary, but they do hold valuable information that will be gathered today.
First you have to get the eagles, which is no easy task, by climbing into the nest.
"In this case we only had one nestling, this year, we've had a couple nests with three, a couple with one or two youngsters," added Route.
This eaglet is fed by its parents and that food just might be the problem.
"Eagles are tertiary predators, they're very high on the food chain. As we accumulate these chemicals, we can find them much more readily in the bald eagle," added Route.
And it's not just a problem for eagles.
"Because they're tertiary predators like us, it gives us an indication of what might be inside of us," added Route.
They're doing blood tests, feather samples, measurements and weight. They're looking for a variety of things from lead to mercury, PCBs, DDT and PFCs.
He's collecting three breast feathers for the heavy metals: mercury and lead.
We don't know what the substantial affects of many of these contaminants are. Some have subtle effects that can be shown to change brain chemistry in eagles. We can only assume they have a similar effect on human bodies," said Route.
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