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Osprey chicks help biologists gauge waterway health in Montana

Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-19 20:39:11-04

WARM SPRINGS –  Biologists recently tested three osprey chicks at the Warm Springs Ponds just northwest of Butte.

“Over 10 years now we’ve been going up and doing little alien abductions of the osprey chicks and grab the chicks that are in the nest, bring them down, we’re going to band them and take very small blood samples and feather samples,” said wildlife biologist Erick Greene with the University of Montana.

Biologists are testing baby osprey throughout the Clark Fork River Basin for heavy metals and mercury as part of $168 million settlement with the Atlantic Richfield Co. to clean up mining pollution from Silver Bow Creek to the Clark Fork River.

“It’s kind of ironic, here we are at ground zero for the mining waste and the healthiest osprey chicks we see in terms of the level of heavy metals is this nest right here,” Greene said.

Osprey feed exclusively on fish found in this creek. So if the chicks in the osprey nest are healthy, then this waterway must be healthy too.

“If you think about that little chick, all of that chick grew from fish that we caught within a mile or two of this nest, so we’re able to get a very high-resolution map of pollution along the river,” Greene said.

Environmentalists say the health of the osprey is proof restoration is working.

“It’s really cool to have them in this area because Silver Bow Creek was dead for over 100 years, but now through the restoration efforts there’s a lot of them returning to the valley,” said Chris Doyle with the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program.

Healthy rivers, healthy birds. Northwestern Energy out of Butte supplied the lift to get the biologists up to the nest, where the chicks were safely returned.