Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Importance Of Lead-Free Hunting

Lead Poisoned Bald Eagle from Postville, IA
The paper A Global Update of Lead Poisoning in Terrestrial Birds from Ammunition Sources states that lead poisoning in wildfowl and waders from the ingestion of spent lead gunshot has been extensively studied, documented and reviewed over the last half century. They identify two main routes of ingestion: direct ingestion of lead pellets, which look like grit or small seeds, and secondary poisoning among birds that prey upon or scavenge animals that have been shot: primarily raptors, including eagles, hawks, falcons, and condors. Lead poisoning has been documented in 63 species of birds since 1939, including ravens, pheasants and other game birds, owls, rails, gulls, buzzards, kites, eagles, vultures, condors, falcons, red-tailed hawks, white-throated sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, and solitary vireos. 

How serious is lead poisoning? It is both is pretty serious and very preventable.  Saving Our Avian Resources has done a lot of advocacy for non-toxic shot and they have wonderful information on their website. A few figures that struck me:
  • A study of causes of mortality in eagles submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center between 1975 and 2013 found that trauma and poisonings (including lead poisoning) were the leading causes of death for bald eagles throughout the study period. 
  • 56% of all eagles admitted to Iowa rehabilitators between 2004 and 2008 had abnormal lead levels in their blood. This ranged from a low of 37.5% in 2004 (with 62.5% of eagles being tested) to a high of 70.0% in 2005 (with 90.0% being tested). 
  • The University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center in St. Paul received 117 lead-poisoned bald eagles during the winter of 2009. In 2012, Dr. Pat Redig co-authored this paper about spent ammunition and lead poisoning in bald eagles.
  • In Canada and the USA, approximately 10–15% of recorded post-fledging mortality in Bald and Golden Eagles was attributed to the ingestion of lead shot from prey animals (Scheuhammer and Norris 1996). Elliott et al. (1992) found that 14% of 294 sick, injured. or dead Bald Eagles in British Columbia (1988 to 1991) were lead-poisoned and an additional 23% sub-clinically exposed.
  • A 2012 study by a team at the University of California at Santa Cruz found that 30 percent of blood samples taken from condors each year showed levels of lead high enough to cause significant health problems and that 20 percent of the free-flying birds required treatment to remove lead. From 1992 to 2012, the cause of death was established for 123 condors in California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico; lead was responsible for 42 of the mortalities (
  • While lead poisoning can kill directly, lead toxicity is also a factor in collision deaths and injuries. According to the Raptor Center, about 85% of eagles that come in with collision injuries also have elevated lead levels. This video from the UK shows the effects of lead on a duck's coordination and motor skills:
Where is the lead coming from? Study after study identifies lead shot as the primary source for lead exposure.  In 1991, the US Fish and Wildlife Service banned lead shot in waterfowl hunting, although it can still be used for some other types of hunting, depending on your state's laws and regulations. A survey of ducks on the Mississippi Flyway found that the ban on lead shot reduced lead poisoning deaths of Mississippi Flyway mallards by 64 percent, while overall ingestion of toxic pellets declined by 78 percent over previous levels. By significantly reducing lead shot ingestion in waterfowl, the ban prevented the lead poisoning deaths of approximately 1.4 million ducks in the 1997 fall flight of 90 million ducks. 

Did the ban on lead shot prevent successful waterfowl hunting? No. The total number of geese and ducks harvested nationwide declined steeply beginning in about 1984, but started rising again in roughly 1992, as shown by this chart: the use of non-toxic shot did not negatively impact waterfowl hunting, but did prevent ducks, geese, and many other animals from coming into contact with lead shot by ingesting it directly or feeding on lead-poisoned animals or carcasses containing shot. 

Back in 2013, Bob picked up an eagle that died of lead poisoning shortly after he got it. At the time, he said: “I have reached a point regarding these lead poisoned eagles that surprises me.  I do not get hardened and begin acceptance for picking up these sick eagles on the verge of death and clearly in severe pain.  To look at an adult bald eagle gasping for breath and making what can only be described as cries of pain; is something that never gets easy and to think it is clearly preventable.” 

If you hunt or shoot, please use non-toxic shot. It does your prey well, it does you well, and it does the environment well. We aren’t anti-hunting and we aren’t anti-gun, but handling lead-poisoned eagles has made us anti-lead shot!

Looking for loads? Try these links:
Are non-toxic loads effective? Some resources that conclude they are:
Has reducing lead shot helped birds? In addition to this study on waterfowl, a voluntary program in Arizona and Utah appears to be reducing condor deaths in those two states.  We are looking forward to hearing the results from California, which is beginning to phase in a lead shot ban just this year.

Looking for non-toxic advocates or educational materials? Try these links:
Good luck with your lead-free hunt! 


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Update from Decorah

Answers to your four most commonly asked questions, plus a bonus photo at the bottom of the page!

When will Mom and Dad start working on a new nest?
Did someone mention Eagle Time? In general, Mom and Dad start working on their nest sometime in October. Robin spotted Mom near N2B at one point, but I doubt we'll know whether or not they will adopt it for a month or so. For a time-lapse of the nest, check out this video, pieced together from October 2014 through January 2015: While nest work started in late October, it didn't really kick into gear until maybe mid-November.

Note added on October 10: Mom and Dad have started working on the nest. Visit our youtube channel for more:

What triggers Mom and Dad to start working on the nest? 
I've got a blog on this subject here: The short version? Two ideas: Daylight length is quite similar in mid-February and mid-October, which might encourage bonding activities in the photorefractory period that echo those in the photosensitive period, especially between territorial mates.

The eagles might be impacted by Zugunruhe (migratory restlessness, which is also influenced by daylight length). Mom and Dad don't migrate, but many eagles do. Perhaps the suite of behaviors and hormones that direct migration in some birds influences our eagles to return to nest-building.

Where are the Tree Amigos?
Given that no one has seen them, D21, D22, and D23 have most likely dispersed. D1 dispersed on August 13, 2011. D14 left twice, once on September 5th and for good on September 22, 2012. Four was a bit of an outlier. She took two longer exploratory flights in October 2014 before leaving for good on October 25. You can look at the flight maps of all three here: or explore Four's last month in Decorah here:

What's this about HD cameras?
It's true - we are moving to high definition! Cameras will be installed or replaced at N2B and N1 later this fall. Watch for announcements in early October!

Four at the Carlson Pond on 9/9/2014
Who is the eagle in this photo?
On this date in 2014, Bob took this photo of Four at the Carlson pond about a mile from the hatchery. This was one of her first 'long' flights and raised our hopes that she might disperse - which she eventually did, although she waited until late October to do so. Look for more 'on this date' photos as we wait to see what the eagles decide to do!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Decorah North Nest

We surveyed a new nest last week. 'Decorah North' is a very large nest in a secluded valley north of Decorah. A few statistics from our trip:

  • The nest is 56 feet off the ground 
  • It is nine feet long at its longest point
  • It is seven feet wide at its widest point
  • It has a total area of 49 feet
  • The eagles are in their second year of using it. 

Using the method listed here (, I calculated the nest's weight at roughly 1700 pounds (using 37 pounds per cubic foot for wood weight). Good thing it is located in a sturdy white oak tree!

Kike, a professional photographer and climber, found the following bones in the nest:

  • Adult male turkey leg and and ilium
  • Turkey polt leg. 
  • Fawn leg
  • Adult raccoon skull
  • Young raccoon skull

We are looking at adding cams to this nest and will keep everyone posted on our progress. Given the nest's size and prey remains, these must be industrious, hungry eagles!

Quick note: The nest is located on private property and can't be seen from the road. We are asking everyone to respect the landowner's privacy (and cattle) and refrain from visiting the nest in person. Thank you.

From above. Kike used his climbing helmet for scale
Another view. More than one person could fit quite comfortably

The nest from the side

The fawn's leg. Note how tightly woven the nest is. 

The nest from above. Kike's shadow helps provide a little scale.

Friday, August 21, 2015

N2B, or the New Decorah Nest

Members and friends of the Raptor Resource Project spent the last two days building an eagle's nest - or what we hope will become an eagle's nest - near the former site of N2. We put together this blog to answer questions about our work and what it means.

What happened to N2?
The tree that N2 sat in was destroyed during a storm at around 3am on the morning of Saturday, July 18. The storm has been reported as either an F1 tornado, straight-line winds, or a microburst. We don't which of the three it was, but it certainly did a lot of damage! 

Were the eagles harmed?
No. The entire family was accounted for not long afterwards.

Why did you build a nest? Don't Mom and Dad usually make their own nest?
A red-tailed hawk nest built by Neil and Laura.
Great horned owl Robbie gave it his seal of approval. Note that
it was built on the ground and lifted into place.
Eagles usually make their own nests, but when Neil suggested building a nest, Bob was immediately intrigued. He greenlighted the project and we began planning it. Could we build a nest the eagles would adopt? Literature and Neil and Laura's experience building red-tailed hawk and great horned owl nests indicated that we could. In addition to being thrilling in its own right, the project has management implications far beyond Decorah. Like our kestrel and falcon nest boxes, it could be a useful tool for increasing, maintaining, or shifting bird populations.

Why are you calling it N2B?
N2B stands for N2Bob. Bob passed away before we had a chance to begin, but we decided to carry forward in his honor.

How did you build N2B?
Neil and Laura have constructed nests for red-tailed hawks and great horned owls, but building an eagle's nest came with a whole new set of challenges. The nest had to be assembled in place instead of on the ground, which required a climbing team. Materials and sticks had to be gathered and hauled up, which required a ground team. The nest needed to be structurally sound, which required careful work and planning, and it had to go up relatively quickly, which required a lot of prep ahead of time.

We made two scouting trips to the site. On the first trip, Dave Kester suggested a cottonwood that had all the features we were looking for: an open flyway, wonderful perching spots, and a good fork in which to start the nest. Neil climbed up into the tree on our second visit to confirm it while the ground team set to work collecting sticks and getting the area ready for action.

Nest construction began on Wednesday, August 19. Neil and Kike (Kee-Kay) Arnal climbed up to the nest and bolted four 2x4s to build a small frame in the fork of the tree. Meanwhile, the ground team collected bundles of sticks from N2 and bags of leafy debris from the forest floor. Sticks were hauled up so Neil and Kike could insert them between the 'rings' of the 2x4s, creating a stable platform for nest building to begin. Once the base was in place, Neil wove more sticks in a circular pattern, building the nest higher. The two periodically dumped leafy debris into the nest to fill and raise it, alternating sticks and leaves in layers to build a strong, stable platform...much like eagles would do.

Working on the frame, photo courtesy Robin Brumm
Adding leafy debris, photo courtesy Robin Brumm
Adding sticks, photo courtesy Robin Brumm
After several hours of work, the nest looked like this (see this excellent Facebook post by Laura for more images)...

We decided it was time to knock off work until the next day (August 20th), when we returned to finish the job. Amy got to go up with Kike to provide some finishing touches. She wove branches around the outside rails and helped add more debris from the forest floor. While individual sticks and leaves might not seem very strong, the outside edges of the nest were strong and stable enough to stand on.

I think we could have stayed in the tree for the rest of the day, but N2B was intended to be a starter or catalyst nest, not a finished product. We rappelled to the ground, leaving nothing behind but a pair of road-killed squirrels per Bob's instructions.

Why did you put the nest up so fast? Will Mom and Dad do any building if they use it?
Mom and Dad started building N2 in October of 2012, which is just around the corner. We wanted the catalyst nest up with time to spare. Our work notwithstanding, the eagles will bring in more materials to N2B should they choose to use it. Nest building is an important part of bonding and our project won't change that.

Did you put cameras up?
We haven't yet. We'll make a decision on cameras in September. In the meantime, we'll be watching the nest. Mom soared overhead to check out our work on Thursday. We hope she approves!

Some links on contructing or erecting artificial bald eagle nests:

A couple of news stories:
This project would not have happened without the help and support of an awful lot of people. A million thanks to the landowners for giving us permission to undertake this project. A million more thanks to Neil Rettig and Laura Johnson, Kike Arnal, Dave Kester, John Howe, Brett Mandernack, Jim Robison, Randy Christman, Ryan Schmidt, Jason Thiele, Pat Schlarbaum (Iowa DNR), Maggie Jones, David Linton, Rob Horowich, Nora and Joe Hensley, Robin Brumm, Willard Holthaus, and Chris Gourley. If I forgot your name, email me: and I will add it.

Some bonus photos from Laura and Robin...

Ryan, Brett, and Jim cutting boards for the framework (courtesy Laura Johnson)

Dave Kester wearing Bob's photo (courtesy Laura Johnson)

Kike takes a photo, thrills watchers (courtesy Robin Brumm)

More sticks being collected (courtesy Robin Brumm)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Message From The Director

Although Bob Anderson is gone, the Raptor Resource Project is committed to continuing his work. We are dedicated to preserving and strengthening raptor populations, expanding participation in raptor conservation, fostering the next generation of preservationists, and educating people around the world about raptors and their habitats.

Our board met on Saturday, August 1st, to choose a new director and add additional board members. Bob wanted John Howe to succeed him as director.  John and Bob worked together on several projects, including the falcon cam installation and HD upgrades at Great Spirit Bluff, the Decorah cams, our bald eagle cam project with the Seneca Nation of Indians, and preparation for the Philippine Eagle jungle camera.  Bob was impressed by John's leadership and technical skills, his passion for using media to fascinate and motivate people, and his dedication to our mission. John will be a wonderful addition to the Raptor Resource Project and we welcome him as our new director. He will move Bob's legacy forward.

From left to right: David Lynch, John Dingley, Dave Kester, Laura Johnson, Neil Rettig, Brett Mandernack, Director John Howe. Not pictured: Board Chair Randy Christman, board members Jim Robison and Ken Mueller.
The Raptor Resource Project also added four new board members to the original five picked by Bob. Veterinarian Laura Johnson and film-maker Neil Rettig are our leads for carrying the Philippine Eagle Project forward, Dave Kester is deeply involved in our peregrine falcon banding and monitoring program, and David Lynch has been involved in a wide variety of projects, including eagle tracking, the kestrel nest box program, and social media. All nine of our board members were friends of Bob and are deeply committed to our mission. They will continue Bob's work, assuring that his vision guides us.

Message from the Director

John Howe
With the passing of Bob Anderson, renowned raptor expert and advocate, Raptor Resource Project friends and fans around the world are experiencing a profound loss. I want to thank all that shared their sentiments by cards or postings, or who traveled to Decorah to celebrate the life of a truly amazing man!  Bob was a visionary man, a humble man, and most of all a man with purpose.  He was an intelligent scientist, an expert raptor researcher, and breeder determined to help save the Peregrine falcon after decades of DDT use brought the species to the brink of extinction. Bob spent much of his life savings on Peregrine recovery efforts.  He challenged conventional ideas and developed an innovative program to release Peregrine falcons from the river bluffs where he found success in drawing the falcons back to their original nesting habitat.  He pioneered and perfected bird cams through his work with Excel Energy and RRP.  Bob also opened an educational window of awareness into the intimate daily lives of raptors for anyone to see, making it possible by partnering with an innovative company called Ustream.  His collaborative work with cinematographer Neil Rettig led to the installation of cameras in the famous cottonwood at the fish hatchery and the world famous Decorah Eagles!

What an incredible legacy Bob Anderson leaves behind, a legacy I am honored to have been chosen to move forward.  Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is John Howe; some of you may know me as GSBDweller.  I grew up in the scenic bluffs of the Mississippi River north of La Crescent, MN along Apple Blossom Scenic Drive.  Ironically, I never saw Peregrine falcons in the area growing up.  In 2004, Bob approached my father about installing a nest box on our family property.  He drew my father in to participate in his goal of returning falcons to this cliff that they inhabited decades ago.  The nest box has attracted falcons back each year since and our family, friends, and falcon enthusiasts band the young each spring.  I can’t tell you how rewarding it has been to work with Bob over the past five years.  It all started with a discussion at a banding event in 2011.  I commented to Bob “You have a wonderful bald eagle camera broadcasting to Ustream, but your life passion has been falcons. How would you like a falcon cam out on the bluffs of the mighty Mississippi?” Bob jumped at the chance to help my son Jonathon design and complete his Eagle Scout project.  It consisted of laying 1,000 feet of conduit and cables though the woods and he and Amy Ries did the hard part of hanging across the cliff and mounting the camera and cables to the nest box.  At the time, I thought - what kind of crazy people dare do this kind of work?  Now, after their expert training, I have been hanging around with them!

Bob was clear about his plans for the future.  We are committed to bringing those plans to reality while coming to a better understanding about the unpredictability of Nature.  We did not expect to lose the current Decorah cams to lightning and we sure had no idea that a storm would topple the current bald eagle nest (N2).  It is interesting that Bob understood that unpredictability and we were already preparing for a backup Decorah cam location before that unfortunate event.

We have an aggressive and exciting agenda being put into motion and the expertise of our long time and newly appointed board members will be harnessed.  Here are the first four items of Bob’s “Top 10” project list that we are moving forward with:

  1. Restoring the Decorah Eagle nest. Bob was very excited by Neil Rettig's suggestion to build a starter nest near the ruins of N2 to see if the eagles adopt it as their own. Neil will be leading this effort and it is truly a remarkable idea. Will they come if we build it? The question has implications for wildlife management far beyond the Decorah eagles.
  2. Establishing a new bald eagle nest cam in Decorah.  We anticipate a September installation of cameras in a beautiful oak tree in the vicinity of one of Iowa’s treasured trout streams.  There are challenges in getting this nest instrumented and “on-air”, but everything is falling into place for an new pair of eagles to introduce.
  3. Partnering with the Seneca Nation of Indians to establish a bald eagle cam at one of their active nest sites. This is a wonderful opportunity for the Seneca Nation to continue its heritage of educational outreach.  This eagle cam will be hosted on RRP’s Ustream site.
  4. Establishing a live Philippine Eagle Cam at a wild nest. Bob’s initial RRP work with the Philippine Eagle foundation and Neil Rettig led to the installation and broadcasting of a captive eaglet produced as part of the PEF breeding program.  That video footage is still posted on the RRP Ustream page. RRP is collaborating with Cornell Lab of Ornithology to install nest cams in the dwindling forest habitat of the Philippine Eagle.  We are very excited about the impact this project will have in educating the Philippine people and the world about an amazing creature that is facing an uncertain future.  Just like Bob’s falcon work, this project could be the catalyst for the next great conservation success!

Wild Philippine Eagle. Photo by Neil Rettig
Thanks to all of you for your past and present support as we start on a very exciting year of raptor research, education, and monitoring!  We will keep you posted on our progress.

John Howe

Friday, August 07, 2015

What Bob Anderson Meant to Me - Mainecoonlady

A post from a follower that I wanted to share...

It was 2009 when my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Over the next year at home, she became increasingly worse with the onset of Dementia as well.  This drew on my ability to work, and I lost my job (career really) as well.  Soon Mom entered the hospital with pneumonia and was released to a rehab facility.  So my days were filled with constant battle with the repulsive care of my Mom in really bad health facility conditions.  In 2011, I found the Decorah Eagle Nest Cam.  I was enchanted.  I read and learned all I could about the work done by the Raptor Resource Project, Bob Anderson and our Eagles.  While not much into the science of things, I was just so amazed at their beauty, grace and freedom.  Freedom.  That word has become very important to me.

I watch the camera, and observed the chat.  2011 was an amazing time.  It was new and exciting.  So my days were filled with the horror of watching my Mom slowly slip away, and fighting literally for her care and health when so many wanted to give up on her and settle for substandard care.  It was very exhausting and demanding.  I was alone.  I was scared.  I was heartbroken. So each day, after tucking Mom safely in her bed, I drove home, ate some awful fast food and sat down to watch the nest.  Not chatting back then, but watching and listening.  Escape?  I watched these magnificent creatures build up the nest, mate, produce beautiful eggs that hatched into these precious little white fluffy bobbleheads.  To this day their sweetness brings tears every year.  I watched them eat, sleep and grow.  I waited breathlessly for the wingersizing, worried in the snow and the rain (yeah.. I know NWZ! But ya worry), I watch branching and the Y activities.  Then the most amazing thing happened.  FLIGHT!  I watched one by one as those little babes took off.  It was exhilarating. Freedom, in my world was unattainable both for my Mom and me.  But when they took off for the first time I felt their freedom deep inside that touched my soul.

I watched, I listened, and learned all I could.  I was living in hell by day and freedom and wonderment each night.  I read articles, watched videos, watched all I could on Facebook and on RRP website.  Then there was that first transmitter.  Our Diva D1 was now on her way and we took that journey with her.  ESCAPE!  I found escape in her freedom.  I could not escape from the agony of the daylight but I lived for those nights with the eagles.

When the CAM was down for the season repairs, I kept up with the day to day through Facebook, RRP and even tried the Forum. In October 2011, Mom lost her battle and now I was left alone for real.  Camera was down for the season, and Mom was gone.  I had taken a useless part time job that at least allowed me to keep going.  I moved in with my sister and rented out my house, since nothing was selling.  It was a rough couple of months and a lonely winter.  I had lost everything I treasured.

Then there was activity in the nest.  Our parents we preparing.  So busy, so intricate in the design. Finally the camera was back and the life cycle had begun again.  D12, that regal elegant eaglet; D13, the steady faithful sidekick and D14, the most amazing little creature I have ever seen.  I learned a new phenomenon.  Our eaglets have individual distinct personalities.  D14 will forever be etched in my heart with his loving style, silly antics, camera technician abilities, and that sweet little white speck above the eye.  The original CAM HAM.  In 2011, I learned about eagles, in 2012 I fell in love with them.

Then the heartbreak. There was Bob.  It was at this point I learned that he was not just a scientist, he was a fan.  That big burly down to business man, loved them too.  I was intrigued. He was so business-like about the goals that needed to be reality for all the raptors.  He was the most compassionate man, the most informative leader, he understood that he brought a beautiful treasure to us and with this, he felt this enormous sense of responsibility to the raptors and to us.  He would post a message that was factual and scientific, informative and hopeful in the face of tragedy.  But under it all, was a great man with a huge heart.  He made a family with this nest, not only with Mom, Dad and their offspring, but with us. Over the years, I joined chat, participated with questions and information.  I am proud to say that I am part of that chatter family now.  FRIENDS.  Bob opened a world of beauty to us and gave us each other, he gave us friendship.

My life in these past four years is very different.  I finally have a great job, not like I had but a good solid job where I feel my talents can contribute.  Being out of work does crazy things to your self-esteem.  Then I bought a small townhouse, and recently sold the other house, finally.  I followed the amazing yet tragic 2012, the unknown 2013 with N2, the horrendous 2014 season, and this year's 2015 stellar year for our eagles.  And through it all was Bob, like a rock, like the leader of the pack. He worked behind the scenes taking care of our eagles, falcon, turkey vultures and so many more.

Bob? I know you are listening now.  Do you know what your work meant to our eagles?  Do you know what your life meant to all of us?  You gave me peace in turmoil, you gave me fun in the face of despair, you made me care about something besides the darkness in my life, you educated me about something I didn't even know I cared about, you got me excited about wildlife, you made me spread the word and get my friends to check out this amazing new camera event!!!  YOU Bob!  Now multiply that by the millions around the world who love this as much as I do.

I can't express my gratitude for all you have given.  I know your work will continue but you will be missed.  You will be remembered as a hero, to our raptors and to me.  You saved them and you saved me, in more ways than you can imagine.  I will remember your smile, your tender voice, your caring drive to care for our raptors and bring us a joyous event, console us through the tragedies and give us hope for the future.

Thank you, Bob Anderson.  Those words just don't seem like enough.  You will be missed.  Hug our babes for us, D12, D14, D18 and D19.  You are our eagle angel now!   You are B1, the one and only!


Falcon Effigies of the Upper Mississippi River

When we began our efforts to return the peregrine falcon to the bluffs of the Mississippi River in 1998, we collaborated with Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harper's Ferry, Iowa. Effigy Mounds National Monument runs along the west bank of the Mississippi river. It preserves prominent bluffs, unfragmented forests, and over 200 prehistoric mounds constructed by groups of indigenous people more than one thousand years ago.  The mounds usually take one of three different shapes:
  • Conical mounds that are round and dome shaped
  • Linear mounds that are long and tubular
  • Effigy mounds that are shaped like birds, bears, panthers, snakes and other animals  
I became very interested in the mounds while we were hacking young falcons from Hanging Rock, located at the north end of the Monument.  I learned of stunning aerial images of effigy mounds outlined in white lime and photographed from small planes.  We owe these images to the late Dr. Clark Mallam, a professor of anthropology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa from 1940 to 1986.
Dr. Mallam believed that the effigy mounds were works of art. He conscripted his students to haul hundreds of 50-pound bags of Luther College football field lime out to the bluffs to outline the monuments, while he photographed their work from using small airplanes.  Altogether, Dr. Mallam recorded 220 mounds on film. I still run into students who smile while recalling the monumental effort it took tote the lime out to the bluff top mounds and photograph the mounds.

When I first viewed Dr. Mallam's aerial images, I was immediately struck by the shape of the bird mounds, which greatly resemble the silhouette of a peregrine falcon.  The similarity inspired me to research mound builder culture. Over the past decade, I have found a great deal of evidence to prove that the bird mounds are in fact falcon effigies. The mounds resemble falcons, the mound builders venerated falcons, and the mounds are often located near historic falcon eyries.

Figure 1: Two falcon effigies

This aerial image of two falcons is located on private property adjacent to an historic falcon eyrie near Lansing, Iowa.  The falcon on the right has a wingspan of 227 feet and the falcon on the left has a wingspan of 141 feet.  These two falcon effigies are the largest bird effigies remaining in the State of Iowa.  Their long wings and general body plan resemble falcons more than eagles, hawks, or generic passerine birds.  LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, shows the resemblance even more clearly.  LIDAR is an optical remote sensing technology that can measure the distance to properties of ground targets by illuminating the target with laser light and analyzing the backscattered light. The spectrum it uses penetrates foliage and provides high-resolution ground surface imaging.

The LIDAR image below was taken of a Wisconsin bluff top along the Mississippi river. It shows drainage, watershed topography, and a detailed image of a falcon effigy, which has a wingspan of 271 feet. If you look closely, you will see the falcon's head is directed left. Visitors to the mound report that it appears to have a curved beak.

Figure 2: LIDAR image of a falcon effigy

A professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, told me soil analysis revealed that some of the material used to make these massive earthen effigies was mud gathered from the river bottom.  I was completely shocked since sometimes we have to haul ropes and gear from the bottom of the bluff tops to band falcons, a lung and leg-busting effort even with modern backpacks and hiking gear. I can't imagine the amount of work it would have taken to haul thousands of pounds of mud up to the bluff tops, which tower 400 feet over the river in some places.  Surely, the effigy builders would not have bothered unless the project was grandly important to them.

Figure 3: More effigies of four bears, two falcons and one linear mound.  Each of the bear effigies are approximately 85 feet long.

Several decades ago, I was standing below a large cliff near Lansing, Iowa.   An elderly gentleman approached me and asked what I was looking at. I told him about our falcon reintroduction work and expressed the hope we might someday have falcons back at their historic cliff nest sites.  He enthusiastically responded, "You mean duck hawks!" and went on to tell me that duck hawks were his entertainment before radio and television.  Fifteen years after we began our cliff-directed releases, I now understand what he meant.  When I carry out my spring cliff surveys, I look for peregrines hammering bald eagles, the occasional golden eagle, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, and (to a lesser extent) turkey vultures as they make their way up the Mississippi river flyway.  This territorial behavior by the falcons is nothing like crows mobbing an owl or black birds mobbing a hawk. The defending falcons put on an amazing, acrobatic show: diving, chasing, and loudly vocally protesting as they drive away or outright kill birds many times their size.  This impressive sight must have inspired the mound builders to build falcon mounds and adopt the falcon as a model for warriors who achieved leadership through daring feats in war and hunting.

Growing up in Minnesota, I was accustomed to seeing Indian mounds.  Minnesota at one time had over 11,000 known mounds.    Most were conical mounds varying 25 to 40’ in diameter and three to eight feet high.  However, one mound in northern Minnesota measures 100 by 140 feet and is 25 feet high. The mound is composed of 5,000 tons of earth and thought to contain the remains of thousands of individuals.  Most mounds served as burial sites, although some of the effigy mounds appear to have been purely ceremonial in nature.

The remaining falcon effigies along the Mississippi river are commonly found near historic falcon eyries. Sadly, far too many mounds have been destroyed.  In 1892, Theodore Lewis surveyed the Harpers Ferry, Iowa “Great Group” of mounds.  He identified approximately 900 mounds, of which 274 were effigy mounds.  By 1973, less than a dozen badly disturbed conical mounds remained.  This hallowed ground had been plowed under or dug up, and the graves robbed of their bones, implements, and ceremonial artifacts. The largest mound group ever recorded in North America was all but gone.

I first began looking for falcons on these cliffs thirty years ago, in 1983. I longed to see them back where they truly belonged, as mound builders and earlier generations had. Thirteen years later, I was tired of waiting. I moved to northeast Iowa, built a rock-lined eyrie with the help of several friends, and raised falcons for release. Not everyone approved of the project. The peregrine falcon was still endangered and our proposed cliff releases attracted a great deal of controversy, especially since earlier release attempts had failed. However, I believed that it could be done. We persevered and, despite influential opposition, received the backing of the Iowa DNR and Effigy Mounds National Monument. We hacked falcons in 1998 and 1999 from Hanging Rock at Effigy Mounds, an arduous process that required a 100-mile round trip and a three-mile mosquito-infested hike along a muddy, narrow trail every day, for over 40 days each season.

In 2000, the first falcon returned to the cliffs of the Mississippi river at Queen's Bluff, a large cliff located south of Winona, Minnesota. The unnamed female was a cliff hack from Effigy Mounds in 1998. Our project had worked! The move, the fighting, the planning, the building, releasing, driving, and hiking - all of it had paid off, and falcons were back! The long wait was finally over and we had accomplished our goal.

The falcons return from their winter haunts toward the end of February. As soon as they take up residence on the bluffs, every migrating bird of prey on the Mississippi flyway has to run the gauntlet of the territorial falcons. Sometimes when I am down below a river cliff, I see a migrating eagle or hawk making its way towards a cliff with falcons. I wonder: will this bird catch the wrath of the territorial falcons? Just as it nears the cliff, it loops out over the river, bypassing the cliff face entirely. It always brings a smile to my face. That bird has been educated.  But don't take my word for it... visit the Upper Mississippi River cliffs and come see it yourself!  On the river's east bank, the majority of the cliffs can be found from Diamond Bluff, WI south through Prairie Du Chien, WI. On the west side, the cliffs run south from Red Wing, MN to Waukon Junction, IA. It is a spectacular setting for a spectacular bird of prey, and an ongoing show.

We owe a special debt of gratitude to the many falconers who supported our work, along with the Iowa DNR and Effigy Mounds National Monument. Thank you for your support.

Our Brother Bob Anderson

Our brother Bob was number seven from a family of eleven brothers and sisters. We grew up in a small rambler in a new housing development in White Bear Lake with wide open fields across the street. It was common at that time for kids to leave home at the crack of dawn and not return until dinner time and Bob would take off on foot or on his bike every morning to explore the world. He was a regular boy, catching animals and bringing them home to observe – or in the case of snakes, bringing them home to tease us.

Our father started his own company and we moved to Rapid City South Dakota for a few years – keeping our home in WBL too. Bob was about thirteen at this time and I believe his love of birds started from exploring the Black Hills Mountain Range. I know that he also carried a small shotgun too because one time he returned home and told me he was attacked on a cliff by a large bird and he had to shoot to scare it – creating a hole in his gun case. He said he came real close to falling that day but of course that didn’t stop his love of exploring -he was back out there the very next day.

We returned back to WBL and Bob started a friendship with Bob Duerr – who was with Como Zoo. Injured animals soon found their way to our small rambler with the big fenced yard and one that I remember was an eagle, maybe a Golden Eagle with a broken wing. That eagle could outrun a rabbit and it was hard for us young kids to watch the kill but Bob said everyone needs to eat. We called that eagle Tom Dooley – after the Kingston Trio song Tom Dooley because even with a broken wing he was capable of hopping up on the fence, and would put its head on your shoulder. Bob Duerr also got Bob starring roles on the Lunch with Casey kid’s show which was very cool!

It was also at this time that Bob started bringing home the birds. We had a small room in our home, a kind of scary room we called the “back room”. This is where we stored our coats and boots and things and this is also the room Bob took over for his birds. So, you can only imagine how super scary it was to open that door to get a coat, not only knowing what would come flying out at you, but also wondering just how much bird poop it would contain!

He moved onto to Hawks and I remember several Red-Tails and also a beautiful Goshawk that he let me hold one day and it got lose. We chased that bird down for hours and finally got it back. Bob got a Volkswagen van and from then on was known as the Bird Man as he always had a bird in the back. One place he lived in was with another animal lover so there were snakes and spiders in cases everywhere and an alligator greeted you from the tub!

Bob loved flying his birds and learned everything he could about Birds of Prey – especially the Peregrine Falcon. His farm house in Hugo was always filled with fellow falconers sharing their love of birds. He worked for the Science Museum of Minnesota for a while and it was about this time that he married and they had a son Jeremy. To support his family – he tried to put his love of birds on hold and took a job with 3M but his passion was too big to control.

Around this time falcons were starting to die off and it was discovered that the pesticide DDT was to blame. DDT usage was poisoning the adult birds and causing the eggs to have very thin shells. The Peregrines were becoming extinct. So in the 1970’s DDT was banned and Bob and friends like Mark Bolton started attempting to artificial inseminate the birds. Bob would stay up many nights for months manually turning the eggs – replicating what nature would normally do. The process was successful and the first babies that were born were really something to celebrate! I do admit that I loved the look on our family’s faces when they first saw these newly hatched baby birds– not the prettiest for sure! The release birds found their way onto tall buildings and structures and luckily there was no fear of heights with Bob as he scaled buildings and cliffs to provide nest boxes and ban them for tracking purposes.

Our brother received so many National Awards but he always downplayed the recognition. Our eldest sister Pat tried to start a scrapbook and very quickly ran out of pages – Bob was everywhere. Bob was a humble man – and always quick to point out that his success were not his own. It was the contributions from so many others that made the projects successful – including the Eagle Cam. We, Bob’s family, are very happy that we were able to share our brother that we loved so much with all of you.

JoAnn Anderson

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bob Anderson

I am deeply sorry to confirm that Bob Anderson passed away this morning. Out of respect for Bob and his family, we are asking that everyone respect their privacy. Official announcements will be made here and on Ustream in the days to come. Our deepest condolences to Bob's family.

Although Bob was very proud of his work with the Decorah Eagles, his heart was truly in his peregrine falcon recovery work. This video tells the story of his cliff work and was a special favorite:

The photo shows him on Great Spirit Bluff. It was one of his very favorites - he loved to be on rope - and is how many of us will remember him. Fly on, friend and mentor. We will never forget you.