Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
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It sometimes can take a community to put a nest back together

Quick work and innovation makes life or death difference for eagle family

Chick being placed in nest by Mark Martell

Eagle chick being placed in nest by Mark Martell. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Power.

Binocular cam photo from June 11, when issue was first discovered. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Power.
Binocular cam photo from June 11, when the issue was first discovered. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Power.

By Mags Rheude
Minnesota/Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office

Sometimes, even the best-laid plans of birds and man go awry, but strong partnerships can help create a solution.

On June 11, I received a call from Minnesota Power – they had an eagle nest on a transmission line causing power outages. They wanted to remove it, but there was a young chick in the nest. When we came out to take a look, we were able to estimate that the chick would fledge in mid-July, but the power company was concerned about the City of Baxter losing power, or the nest causing a fire on the line.

After multiple phone calls coordinating with Minnesota Power, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Region 3 Migratory Bird Permits staff, we decided the best course of action was to temporarily divert power to another line, and have the line crew go up in a bucket truck to trim the nest where it was touching the line and install line insulators. To do this it would involve Minnesota Power obtaining an eagle disturbance permit.

We decided to combine this permit with a nest removal permit for after the chick fledged and thus began a scramble to work with them to submit the two permit applications -one for disturbance, one for nest removal. We also coordinated with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who have their own nest removal permit, and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, who have requested coordination when eagle permits might be issued within the 1855 Treaty Boundary.

After talking with all interested parties, Deanne Endrizzi in the Midwest Region permit office and I decided it would be best to bring the chick to the ground while the nest trimming was occurring, to prevent a premature jump from the nest. I got in touch with Mark Martell, raptor bander and biologist with Tetra Tech Inc, an all-around eagle expert, who agreed to come out with me to the site. Martell would help transport the chick to the ground, band it, and get it back in the nest.

All our plans seemed to be coming together nicely; the permit office scrambled to expedite the dual-permit, and we planned to meet Minnesota Power on site once the weather allowed. Two Minnesota Department of Natural Resources biologists stationed at Camp Ripley (a U.S. Army National Guard Base nearby) and their summer intern from Central Lakes College, met us on site. A biologist from Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe also joined us.

The power company diverted the power from the line June 17th, submitted their permit applications on June 18th, and Deanne issued the permits June 20th, but strong storms delayed our site visit until June 25th.

As soon as we arrived on site, we knew something was amiss. The Minnesota Power line crew was waiting for us by the road with bad news. Sometime before the power was remotely diverted from the line (at least 8 days before), the portion of the nest touching the line caught fire. The cross arm of the transmission line was burned all the way through, and the nest was a blackened heap on the ground.

We hiked into the right-of-way to survey the damage. Turkey vultures soared overhead, and the stench of something rotting was unmistakable.  But as we got closer, my spirits rose. Sitting in a tree nearby was an adult eagle. Could the chick still be alive after more than a week on the ground?

We spread out and started our search and quickly identified the source of the smell – a large heap of fish parts. And, under a nearby bush, we pulled out a 5-week old eagle chick completely unharmed. Martell checked the chick for injuries or burns, and fortunately found none. Somehow the chick had jumped, glided, or bounced to the ground unhurt, managed to not get eaten by coyotes or wolves and the parents continued to care for it.

We put the chick in a pet porter in the shade to reduce stress for the chick and weighed our options. Martell estimated the chick was a male at least five to six weeks from fledging. We could leave it on the ground, but its chances of not getting eaten for six weeks were slim. Since we could smell the pile of fish, a carnivore would have no trouble finding the chick. We could take him to a wildlife rehabber, but we knew the absolute best chance the chick had for fledging and long-term survival was for the parents to continue taking care of it.

Near the burned transmission line was small, old, unused osprey tower. We wondered aloud, could we make a nest up there for the chick? The answer was yes. Everyone jumped into action. Minnesota Power asked us what we needed to make the nest. They had two bucket trucks and an impressive number of tools at their disposal. They were eager to help and told us to direct them what to do.

Martell volunteered to go up in the bucket truck to assist with the construction, donning a safety helmet and strapping himself into a fall harness. We decided to attach two-by-fours to the platform to make it larger, and to create some perching options for the adults on the side. We then gathered large sticks and tied them down with bailing wire to make the bowl of the nest. Atop that we placed softer nesting material.

While this work was being done, a second truck placed a temporary splint on the ruined cross arm of the transmission tower and restrung the line.  They would return after the chick fledged for a permanent fix of the line.

Martell banded the chick then he and the chick rode up in the bucket truck to the top of the new nest. He gently placed the chick in the nest while we collectively held our breath hoping for the best. Success! The eaglet settled into his new home, none the worse for wear.  The parents had been in the area the entire time, keeping watch and we felt confident that they would keep caring for the chick.

We installed a predator-guard on this osprey-turned eagle nest platform, cleaned up our gear, and headed out.
We reflected on what we had achieved. Conservation partnership and innovation in its purest form: government and industry staff had scrambled to solve an emerging safety emergency and save this majestic bird.  Our Service field and permit offices coordinated and consulted quickly to get the permits issued. State and tribal partners pitched in to come up with a solution.

Today, the chick is still in the nest, getting big, and fledged this month, and the adults are still caring for it. The nest we built wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it worked, and we built it together. A great example of how we and other wildlife partners can work together.

“Minnesota Power has a long history of collaborating with regulatory agencies to protect ospreys and eagles that use our power poles for nesting platforms. We’re grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Camp Ripley, and other volunteers to ensure a positive outcome for this fledgling eagle,” Minnesota Power Environmental Compliance Specialist Ross Dudzik said. “The biological expertise this group brought to the table, coupled with the creativity and quick action of Minnesota Power’s linemen, was a great example of how partnerships are critical to live out our shared value of environmental stewardship.”

Minnesota Power lineman rebuild nest on nearby platform. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Power.

Minnesota Power linemen rebuild nest on nearby platform. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Power.

From the most recent check, the eagle chick is getting big atop its partner constructed home. Photo by USFWS.

From a recent check, the eagle chick is getting big atop its partner constructed home and successfully fledged days later. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Power.

Last updated: June 8, 2020