Knowing that lead poisoning is a problem that bald eagles face in the wild, Avery Sampson, high school senior at Middleton High school in Middleton, Wisconsin, proposed to develop a field test for detecting lead in bald eagle excrement for the Badger State Science Fair competition. Avery’s rationale was that there needed to be a way to monitor the health of a specific nest site in the wild. If a protocol was developed, it would allow a fast, noninvasive way of checking a bird’s lead states. She hypothesized that one could better predict if a bald eagle will need human assistance. Capturing and drawing blood can be a difficult and stressful activity for both the eagles and the field personnel. While lead levels in fecal samples can be determined in a laboratory, with this test you could more easily identify eagles that need treatment for lead intoxication.
Avery contacted TRC Staff veterinarian Dr. Michelle Willette for consultation on this project. Her study involved collecting bald eagle excrement from along the Wisconsin River below the Prairie du Sac Dam. Excrement was collected from the sand below several trees where the bald eagles perch. While her proposed protocols were ultimately not successful in testing the excrement, it did prove that her idea was possible.
She received Third Place in the Environmental Sciences category. She also won three specialty awards, one from the American Society of Quality and one from Alpha Chi Sigma for the top award in Chemistry. Avery also received an invitation to the Genius Olympiad in New York this summer. There she will have the opportunity to compete in an environmentally focused science fair.