Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mississippi Kite Nest- An Historical Moment for Wisconsin Birding

Written by Dianne Moller, Director of Hoo’s Woods Raptor Center

Nestling MIKI
It was a hot day on August 23, 2015 when Rhoda Grossnick, a resident of Janesville, brought a young bird to the Hoo’s Woods Raptor Center (HWRC). In my 18 years as the Center’s Director, I’d never seen this type of bird before.  After posting a photo on Facebook, several biologists in southern states quickly identified the mystery bird as an immature Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis).  The bird was just learning to fly and appeared to be about six weeks old.  It was critically low in body weight and needed food. Worse yet was that its vision was impaired, a symptom of West Nile Virus. I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and, to our knowledge, this was first Mississippi Kite ever recovered in Wisconsin.

We weren’t sure where it came from but, judging by his age and condition, I was certain it had not traveled far.  In time, we named it “Wrong Way.” The bird is not releasable due to both its restricted vision and the abnormal molting of its tail feathers.  With permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it remains with us as an education ambassador.  

Adult MIKI in stick nest
I was not totally surprised when, in late July of 2016, I received a call from Dr. Jane Anderson. She stated that an adult pair of Mississippi Kites was seen in the same vicinity where Wrong Way had been found last year.  Dr. Anderson saw Wrong Way at one of our education programs and was able to identify other members of its species. Immediately, I drove to check out the sighting and sure enough, there were two adult kites sitting about 300 feet apart, each in a snag at the top of a dead tree.  I reported the sighting to the Wisconsin DNR state ornithologist Ryan Brady.

Several days later, DNR staff were able to locate a nest containing one feathered chick. The tiny stick nest sits high in a tree in a residential neighborhood. While investigating this siting, I spoke with a landowner who said her nine-year-old son, told her that a “Bald Eagle” was nesting in their front yard. He assumed this because the chick had a white head.  This was long before any of us realized the kites were here.   She told her son they were some type of hawk but didn’t think anything was unusual about them. It’s a sure bet that most folks in the Great Lakes region wouldn’t recognize this species.

MIKI feeding
This is the first active Mississippi Kite nest to be documented in Wisconsin. However, it seems logical that Wrong Way could have been produced at this same location, possibly from the same pair of adults, in 2015. All parties agreed not to disclose the exact location in order to avoid unwanted human disturbance to both kites and the nearby residents.  

Kites are relatively small, similar in size to a pigeon, and a member of the hawk family.  Their diet consists mainly of dragonflies, an occasional small bird, and other insects.  They are known to transfer food from their feet to their beaks in flight.  In recent years kites have been expanding their range in the U.S. nesting as far north as New Hampshire, Illinois and Canada.

This is an exciting development on two fronts. First, is that the Mississippi Kite has finally been confirmed as a breeding species in Wisconsin. And second, is that wildlife outreach programs, conducted by organizations like Hoo’s Woods Raptor Center, can be shown to have a positive impact on raising the public’s awareness and knowledge about Wisconsin’s rich wildlife resources.

The Hoo’s Woods Raptor Center is proud to have played a small part in this historical event.  Attend one of our education programs and see for yourself that education can make a difference.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Celebrating the Centennial! 100 years of Bird Conservation

On this date in 1916, the first Migratory Bird Act was signed between the United States
and Canada, serving as the catalyst for a century of bird conservation actions. At the turn of the twentieth century, bird populations were in peril as a result of unregulated shooting for the food and fashion industries. Recognizing the need for collaboration to protect species that traverse their borders, partners in the United States and Canada drafted an agreement to cooperatively manage and protect birds that migrate internationally. The act was the first international agreement forged to protect wild birds, and among the first to protect any wildlife species.

Mom and Dad Decorah don't migrate, but many of the birds we watch do! D1 went to Canada for the summer, while many of Eagle Valley's eagles visit the United States for the winter. North American peregrine falcons have been reported on oil rigs in the Gulf Coast (Candace W/Z, a bird that Bob banded), Chile (the incredible Island Girl), and Costa Rica (the lovely Inmaculada), just to name a few. As Scott Weidensaul says: "At whatever moment you read these words, day or night, there are birds aloft in the skies of the Western Hemisphere, migrating. If it is spring or fall, the great pivot points of the year, then the continents are swarming with billions of traveling birds..."

It is August 15th. Grasshoppers are leaping, goldenrod is blooming, indigo buntings are visiting my feeders, and some of the birds that summer in Minnesota and parts north will begin migrating soon. A great tide of birds will wash down from the north, moving down the Mississippi river towards the southern US, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. They will fly over cities, counties, states, provinces, precincts, districts, and nations - a patchwork of histories, languages, cultures, religions, economies, shared experiences, and beliefs - with no passport or knowledge of boundaries other than those imposed by landscape and weather. What has that tiny indigo bunting at my feeder seen? How many miles have passed beneath its wings? What is it like to be an artic tern, which flies about 44,000 miles per year and experiences nearly perpetual daylight as it travels from Greenland to Antarctica and back again? What pulled D1 north 920 miles to Hudson's Bay every summer and what did it feel like when the fishhook of dispersal started tugging her away from the only world she had ever known?

There are a lot of reasons that birds are important. They connect people with nature, which gives us a reason to preserve the landscapes they need. They contribute important environmental benefits, including insect and rodent control, pollination, and seed dispersal. They are an important part of our economy, generating about $500 million annually in direct hunting revenue in my home state of Minnesota alone - and that doesn't count the money spent by birds, bird banders, and people who attend birding festivals. But to me, the most fascinating part of birds will always be their mystery. I am grateful for the window into their world that technology has given us, and for treaties like the Migratory Bird Act to help protect them as they wing their way through our world.

A brief history of three Acts that protect Bald Eagles
The ornamental plume trade provided the catalyst for two of the three Acts that protect bald eagles. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, hats decorated with plumes and other bird parts were a must-have for fashionable ladies. How bad was the plume trade? In February 1886, a young New York ornithologist named Frank Chapman set out on expedition to uptown Manhattan, counting the number of ladies' hats adorned with feathers and other bird parts. Over the course of two trips, Chapman counted 542 hats adorned with 174 whole birds or their disembodied parts. In Chapman’s assessment forty different bird species were represented in his count. As Lapham's Quarterly pointed out, this made uptown Manhattan one of the most diverse bird-watching territories in the world. It is estimated that over 5,000,000 birds were being killed annually to decorate hats and clothing.

Hats decorated with ornamental plumes were a must-have for fashionable ladies! 
Woman wearing a "Chanticleer" hat 
made of bird feathers, circa 1912.
Opera singer Emmy Destinn 
wearing a plume-covered hat, around 1909.

The Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act were passed largely to regulate and combat the ornamental plume trade, which decimated bird populations and drove a number of species to extinction. The Lacey Act, passed in 1900, was the first federal law protecting wildlife. It prohibited market hunters from selling poached game across state lines and was designed in part to stop the flow of feathers from the American countryside to the great millinery centers of New York and London. Iowa fans can be especially proud, since the Act was introduced by Iowa Congressman John Lacey.

The Migratory Bird Act was a landmark agreement signed by the United States and Great Britain in 1916 with the goal of 'preserving those species considered beneficial or harmless to man'. Like the Lacey Act, it provided a tool to limit the extensive ornamental feather trade and the unregulated shooting of birds. Both the US and Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada, which was part of the British Empire) realized that international treaties were necessary to protect animals with no international boundaries. The two countries agreed to stop all hunting of insectivorous birds and to establish specific hunting seasons for game birds.

The Migratory Bird Act agreement was implemented two years later with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The act established penalties for people who broke the law, making it a crime to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell a migratory bird or any of its parts, including nests, eggs, and feathers. This effectively shut down the ornamental feather trade and gave species like the snowy egret a change to rebound.

Breeding plumage: Far better on the snowy egret!
By Len Blumin from Mill Valley, California, United States (Snowy Egret display) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
While bald eagles were covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, they hadn't been directly affected by plume hunting. But sport shooting, bounty hunting, and habitat loss were another matter. The Bald Eagle Protection Act was enacted by Congress in 1940 to protect the bald eagle from direct hunting and habitat encroachment. As the territory of Alaska demonstrates, we haven't always admired bald eagles. Between 1917 and 1952, 128,273 bald eagles were killed and submitted to the Alaska Territorial Treasurer for bounty. We have no figures for the amount that were simply killed offhand or to provide feathers and parts for the trade in "authentic" Native American artifacts, but Congress felt that an act was needed to protect the bald eagle from extinction. The Golden eagle was added in 1962, amending the law to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

While there are many complicated issues around the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (consider the controversial proposed bald and golden eagle take proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service) it has saved millions if not billions of birds since the initial treaty was signed in 1916. Let's celebrate the act and keep moving forward to save birds for the next 100 years! Migratory birds need our help: as Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor for the American Bird Conservancy, pointed out: "Forty percent of all migratory bird species are in decline, so it is urgent that we put in place practices we already know will save birds from needless deaths.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has a long list of important conservation messages. I chose my favorite ones to post here! Remember, times change, and threats change with them.

What is the main threat to migratory birds? 
  • Habitat loss due to urban development, agriculture and other human activities is the main threat to migrating birds. [Note: 'other human activities' is probably referring to global climate change].
  • Migratory birds depend on suitable breeding and wintering grounds and stopover sites where they can rest and feed along their migratory routes. The loss of any sites used by the birds during their annual life cycle could have a dramatic impact on their chances of survival.
What can we do about it? 
  • Conserve habitat - conservation works! Where we have invested in healthy habitats, birds are doing well. Healthy birds mean healthy forests, wetlands, grasslands, shorelines and oceans [and healthy forests, wetlands, grasslands, shorelines, and oceans mean healthy birds].
  • By conserving birds we conserve our American landscapes and the economies and ways of life that depend on them. From farmers and ranchers to outdoor recreationists to children, we all benefit when birds thrive.
#birdyear #thenext100years

Friday, August 12, 2016

Eagle tracking: can you do something about the tracking antenna?

We were asked a lot of questions about eagle tracking during After the Fledge. D1, D14, Four, and D24 and D25 are part of a study by biologist Brett Mandernack from Eagle Valley: the first and, to date, most extensive tracking study in of free-living eagles in the Upper Midwest. Brett’s transmitter and field research have collected a wealth of data about the migratory, wintering, and summering behavior of bald eagles.

The most commonly asked question involved the PTT antennae located on the eagles’ backs. Could they be removed or shortened? How do the transmitters work and why are they the length they are? This blog attempts to answer those questions. Warning: it requires a fair amount of reading and has a long resource list at the end!

Can you get rid of the antenna?
We cannot. An antenna is needed to transmit data from the PTTs worn by our eagles. The PTT and GPS units from Geo-Trak Inc. collect and encode data about location, heading, speed, time, activity, and transmitter and battery performance. The encoded data is supplied as energy to the antenna, which radiates it as UHF radio waves to the Argos satellite network orbiting 528 miles (850 kilometers) over our heads. From there, ground stations receive real time data from the satellites and retransmit it to regional processing centers where we can access it. No antenna = no data.

Why can’t the antenna be smaller? Couldn’t it be part of their leg bands?
Let’s start with a quick primer. When we talk about radio waves, we are really talking about a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum - the range of all types of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). EMR is classified by wavelength into radio wave, microwave, terahertz (or sub-millimeter) radiation, infrared, the visible region that we perceive as light, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays.
Our transmitters are talking from eagles on the ground to satellites in space using radio waves with a frequency of 401.664 MHz.  As the chart above shows, the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength. The shorter the wavelength, the smaller the antenna. So if a higher frequency means a smaller antenna, why aren’t we broadcasting at, say, 30GHz – the top end of the radio spectrum? An organization called the International Telecommunication Union coordinates the shared global use of the radio spectrum, which includes assigning radio frequency allocations for space communication. 399.9 - 403 MHz is the band that ITU has allocated for navigation, positioning, time and frequency standard, mobile communication, and meteorological satellites. Geo-Trak’s satellite tracking products use the Argos satellite network, which transmits and receives data at 401.650 MHz (± 30 kHz). Argos is using the highest frequency available to them.

So why does frequency impact antenna size? The wavelength of a frequency is the distance an electromagnetic wave travels to complete one cycle. As the image at right shows, a 401.664 MegaHertz signal (a signal that oscillates, or moves through a complete cycle 401.664 million times in one second) has a full wave length of 29.38 inches, a half wave length of 14.69 inches, and a quarter wave of 7.34 inches.

For the antenna to radiate properly, it needs to match either the full wave or one of its major harmonics. Therefore, 7.34 inches – a quarter wave - is as short as the antenna can be and still function. Perhaps improvements in materials, circuitry, and/or manufacturing will someday allow smaller antennae to be used in satellite tracking, but for now, a whip antenna is our only choice for robust ground to space communication.

The image at left shows an electrical wave oscillating through a full wave antenna, where the antenna is the same size as the wavelength. If the antenna were longer or shorter than the wavelength it is propagating, it would work less efficiently or not at all. A dipole antenna breaks the wave into two pieces, so it can be half as long as a full wave antenna. A quarter wave antenna - the kind used on our PTTs - breaks the wave into four pieces and can be a quarter the length.

I found the distance traveled to be quite fascinating. If you do the math, 29.38 inches (the distance it takes for our signal to complete one cycle) multiplied by 401,664,000 cycles per second equals roughly 186,000 miles per second. It takes a lot less than a second for messages to travel from the Dynamic Duo (D24 and D25) to the Argos satellite system 528 miles overhead.

Will electromagnetic radiation of an antenna hurt the eagles?
No. Terms like electromagnetic radiation are frightening, but not all electromagnetic radiation is harmful. Innately dangerous electromagnetic radiation is found in the high-frequency end of the spectrum, since high frequency waves are a lot more energetic than low frequency waves.  Think of it this way:  gamma rays have frequencies of 1 x 1021 Hertz, which means that the wavelength crests, or hits its highest potential energy point, 1 sextillion times or cycles per second. That packs a punch! By contrast, visible light has a frequency of around 5 x 1014 (500 trillion cycles per second), microwaves have a frequency of 1 x 1010 Hertz (ten billion cycles per second), and our radio waves have a frequency of 4 x 106 (400 million cycles per second).

Power is also a factor. I have a 1500-watt microwave oven that can damage living tissue. However, it is literally almost 7000 times more powerful than the 225mW solar units that power the transmitter. Even cellphones produce radio waves that are more powerful and energetic than ours.

What about insect studies? Those antennae are really small!
A lot of really cool work is being done with insects. While some of the technologies involve active transmitters, which require batteries, others use passive devices like RFID tags and geolocators. Passive devices don’t require much power and can be made extremely small. A couple of links:
Unfortunately, passive devices can’t transmit. Researchers don’t get data unless the animals move in close proximity to a reader (think of a feeding station where animals might gather), or they are recaptured for a data download. Geolocators could be used to track migratory peregrine falcons that return to the same nest box year after year, but they aren’t a good fit for tracking juvenile or sub-adult eagles that wander unpredictably and often widely.

The tiny little transmitters used in tracking insects are very cool – check out that tiny backpack! – but they have short battery lives (7-21 days) and a limited tracking range on the ground only (100-500m). As neat as they are, they aren’t suitable for tracking juvenile and sub-adult eagles either.

In short…
We can’t get rid of the antenna, which is as short as it can be given the frequency of our ground to space transmission. Argos did a great job designing a package that is light, safe, reliable, and trackable almost anywhere on earth, especially given the physical requirements of the transmission system. The transmitters do not harm bald eagles or impact their social or reproductive interactions with eagles that aren’t wearing transmitters. Passive devices aren’t a good option since juvenile and sub-adult eagles range unpredictably and often widely before settling down to nest, while tiny active devices have short battery lives and a limited ground-only tracking range – something that won’t work for animals that can fly hundreds of miles and live relatively long lives.

However, research into insects and small birds is driving tracking devices to become even smaller.  If at some point appropriate tracking hardware becomes available with a smaller antenna, we will use it.

Did you know?
The wavelength and frequency of electromagnetic waves are closely related. If you have a frequency, you can get the wavelength, and if you have a wavelength, you can get a frequency. With the wavelength, you can determine the length of the antenna you need to transmit or receive radio waves at a given frequency. The formula looks like this:  Wavelength = Wave speed/Frequency.

Let's say that I have a frequency of 401.664 MHz, or 401,664,000 cycles per second. The wave speed is the speed of light, which can be expressed as 3x108 m/s or 300,000,000. If I divide 300,000,000 by 401,664,000, I get .7468 meters. Since I was raised in the English system, I immediately convert it to inches or feet, which gives me an antenna length of 29.38 inches. This was very helpful when trying to determine why the antennae on our PPT systems are the length they were. This web calculator provides lengths for half and quarter wave antennas if you want to play around with making them:

What could you do with an antenna? There is a community of people that listen to the earth via homemade VLF radios. This website provides an introduction to the concept and some online streams:

Resources that helped me learn and write about this:
Since you made it to the bottom, I hope you enjoy this bonus image. XKCD explains the spectrum as only they can!

Friday, July 08, 2016

DN2 Autopsy Report

We received a final autopsy report on DN2. The eaglet died as a result of Methomyl toxicity, although caffeine was also present. An analysis of DN2’s liver ruled out lead and mercury as the cause of death. It did not include information on the sex of the eaglet.

What is Methomyl?
Methomyl is a broad spectrum insecticide introduced in 1966 to kill a variety of insect pests. It is registered for commercial/professional use on sites including field, vegetable, and orchard crops; sod farms; livestock quarters; commercial premises; and refuse containers. It is toxic enough that products containing more than 1% Methomyl are not available for homeowner or non-professional application.

How were DN2 and Mom North poisoned?
While we don’t know for sure, Methomyl is sometimes used off-label to kill wildlife species that become problematic. 1% Methomyl products including Golden Malrin, Lurectron Scatterbait, and Stimukil are placed in sweet solutions, including caffeinated colas, to poison animals like raccoon that some consider pests and can cause damage to buildings and farm animals. Given the presence of both Methomyl and caffeine, it seems likely that Mom North found a Methomyl-poisoned dying or dead mammal and brought it to the nest to eat. It wouldn’t have taken much to kill DN2 or Mom North, since Methomyl is highly toxic.  Based on what we observed, Mom North was able to metabolize and recover from what she ate, but DN2 was not. While it is possible that the poisoning was the unintended consequence of a legal use of Methomyl, the caffeine suggests it was not.

For more about the problems of baiting wildlife with Methomyl, follow this link:

Is this legal?
It is not. While Methomyl and many other pesticides and insecticides are legal when used in a manner consistent with labeling, it is illegal to go off-label and use them in a manner for which they are not intended. Fly bait is legal when used according to direction and illegal used in any other way. There may be state and federal penalties for people caught misusing it, depending on state and federal law, and what species are killed.

What are you going to do about it?
We have already reported the incident to the Iowa State DNR and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and will report it to the EPA and the manufacturer of the most likely culprit, Golden Malrin. We will also use our RRP website, Facebook and Twitter audience to help spread the message about misuse of Methomyl and let people know that they can petition their states to reclassify Methomyl fly baits as restricted products should they choose to do so. We would love to say that this was an isolated incident, but a quick search for “golden malrin raccoon” reveals just how widespread the practice is. Google it and join the discussion!

Do you know who did it?
No. There is a lot of variability in eagle home ranges. While immediate nest defense/core territories tend to occur within 100 square meters or so of the nest, hunting territories vary considerably.  One study documented bald eagle summer home ranges that varied from 3 square miles to 18 square miles depending on age, nesting status, and available resources. But other studies have found even wider ranges in nesting bald eagles, including 37 square miles for a pair in Louisiana. The landowners in the immediate vicinity of the nest have expressed their commitment to conservation.  With bald eagles searching and scavenging for food over a large area, there is no way to know exactly where it cam from. We are not an enforcement agency, but we have reported what we know to enforcement agencies.

We don’t believe that anyone meant DN2 or Mom North any harm. But people need to know that off-label poisoning kills unintended targets and can have serious legal consequences. We don’t believe that anyone meant DN2 or Mom North any harm. But people need to know that off-label poisoning kills unintended targets and can have serious legal consequences. This may also be a good day to check garages, basements, and storage sheds to see what noxious and toxic herbicides, rodenticides, and insecticides are on hand that have tragic consequences for wildlife, pets, and humans. Want something to replace those highly toxic chemicals? Check out the Bio-Integral Resource Center ( and their list of least-toxic pest control products: Even if you can't go completely toxin-free, you can reduce harmful consequences by using products correctly and choosing the least toxic option. You can help by sharing and spreading the word to prevent the unintentional killings of bald eagles and other animals.

Note that Methomyl is toxic enough that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Methomyl manufacturers have agreed to limit use on certain crops to reduce risks to drinking water: EPA and manufacturers have also reached an agreement to stop making and selling some fly bait products and to add information to the label that clarifies the approved uses. EPA believes that these changes will reduce the illegal use of methomyl fly bait products which can kill wildlife, an issue that was reported to EPA by a number of states.

Are you an academic studying this issue? Please contact us by emailing

Friday, May 27, 2016

Intervention at Decorah North Nest

As watchers at the Decorah North Nest know, female eagle Mom North brought some tainted prey into the nest on the afternoon of May 25th. She fed DN2, who promptly died, and ate some herself. Until we shut the cams off, horrified watchers saw a very sick Mom North struggling in the nest.

Neil Rettig and veterinarian Laura Johnson monitored the nest through a private channel. As the night passed, Mom North began to recover from whatever the prey had been tainted with. After she flew off the nest on the morning of May 26th, we knew we needed to make a plan to recover DN2. We wanted to autopsy the eaglet to determine the poisoning agent and prevent Mom from feeding DN2 to DN1 and killing DN1 as well.

The morning started with a call to Kike Arnal, who had climbed into the north nest last fall. Like Neil, he expressed some concern about going into the nest itself and recommended that we try to recover DN2's body with a hook or catchpole. Fortunately, Neil was available to climb. Several of us are versed in rope technique, but the North Nest is very tricky to access and Neil is the only one of us with tree spike experience, which he used to avoid potentially injuring the eagles with a crossbow bolt or line. While Neil, Laura, and Dave Kester made a plan, Amy Ries got busy working on the permit side of things.

Bald eagles are protected by a number of laws, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act (introduced in 1900 by an Iowa congressman). It is highly illegal to trespass on an active bald or golden eagle nest or take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, transport, or export or import any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg. The penalties are severe and may include a fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment, which is doubled for an organization. Should we be found to have broken the Bald and Golden Eagle Act, we could also lose our banding permits, which would end our banding program. While these laws may seem harsh, they have been an important part of returning the bald eagle to the American landscape, and we had no intention whatsoever of running afoul of them.

Amy contacted Deanne Endrizzi from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Pat Schlarbaum and Bruce Ehresman from the Iowa DNR. She explained the situation and outlined our plan. We would recover DN2 without going into the nest and take the body to Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine for autopsy. The Iowa State DNR and the US Fish and Wildlife Service approved our plan very quickly and we were able to recover DN2's body yesterday afternoon. It is on its way to Iowa State University now. We don't know how long it will take for the results to come back.

Parent in tree
Dave retrieving DN2 from the catchpole
Why did you intervene?
We usually don't intervene in nest life. Wild birds survive and thrive in the presence of things that seem frightening and even awful to human watchers, including bad weather, predators, injuries, and aggression. Although humans found the death of DN3 appalling, it was completely normal eagle behavior. But poisoning is not nature taking its course and all parties agreed that intervention was appropriate and allowable in this case.

What happens next?
We are continuing to monitor the nest remotely, but the camera will remain off for live viewing for the time being. Mom has been in the nest with DN1, who has been fed and looks like a healthy, alert young eagle.

DN1 in the nest on the morning of May 27, 2016. 

Thanks to Neil Rettig, Dr. Laura Johnson, Dave Kester, Kike Arnal, John Howe, Deanne Endrizzi, Bruce Ehresman, Pat Schlarbaum, Allamakee county conservation officer Burt Walters, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Dr. Steve Ensley, and Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine for their quick action and help. Your advice and experience were invaluable!

We've had some requests for the last video shot from the nest before we turned it off. This video shows an ill Mom in the nest, as well as DN2. If you find it disturbing to watch, please do not follow the link. I witnessed the event and found it very disturbing:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Proposed 30-year take of bald and golden eagles

As a lot of eagle fans are aware, the Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a plan that would allow companies to kill federally protected bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years. The draft rule will extend the current permit duration of five years to up to 30 years, giving wind farms, power lines and other large projects license to injure, disturb or kill a limited number of eagles in exchange for commitments to avoid and mitigate harm.

The proposed rule has positives and negatives. Before we discuss them further, the public is able to comment on the rule until July 5th, 2016, although comments on the information collection aspects of this rule must be received on or before June 6, 2016. You can comment by going here: and pressing the green 'submit a comment' button on the top right of the page. We encourage people to read through some of the public comments prior to submitting their own.  The Fish and Wildlife Service also has comments and responses available on its website.
Please read the rest of this blog for more information prior to commenting. 

The US Fish and Wildlife Service initially introduced a 30-year take rule in 2009. After reviewing the proposal, the American Bird Conservancy took the US Department of the Interior to court in 2014, stating that the Department of the Interior violated federal laws when it created a regulation allowing wind energy and other companies to obtain 30-year permits to kill protected Bald and Golden Eagles without prosecution by the federal government. The court agreed and the rule was invalidated in 2015. The Fish and Wildlife Service introduced a new rule in 2016, although it did not remove the 30-year take.

The current permitting program is voluntary: that is, companies can choose whether or not to join. The Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to bring a greater number of utility companies into the permitting program by changing the mix of penalties and incentives. Although the plan is not without negatives, more participation will yield more data about best practices for wind power and help determine how many birds and bats are killed by turbines.

  • The plan seems heavily predicated on mitigation, and there are only a few mitigation methods for wind energy that have been verified to reduce bird kills.
  • Post-construction eagle mortality data is collected by paid consultants to industry instead of third-party experts, which is a conflict of interest.
  • 30 years is a very long time to allow take of bald and golden eagles. Technology and bird populations can change much more rapidly than the proposed take period. 
  • Permits remain voluntary. Companies can chose not to participate at all, although they will suffer legal penalties under the Bald and Golden Eagle Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act if they are found to have killed eagles. 
  • The proposed regulations require applicants for permits with durations of longer than 5 years to conduct a minimum of 2 years of pre-application surveys. Surveys are currently voluntary. 
  • Participation is voluntary and many companies currently opt out. Companies that join the permitting program will be under additional government scrutiny and are required to submit to a five-year review by the FWS, even though the 30-year take permit still stands overall. Companies found to be exceeding their take limits will be subject to additional penalties.
  • The new rule allows for more flexibility in responding to local conditions and adopting new technologies. 
A permitted bald eagle take is problematic to most of us and, as the American Bird Conservancy stated,  "...‘green energy' isn't green if it is killing thousands of eagles and tens of thousands of other birds annually." [link to statement]. However, no form of energy is free of cost to wildlife and wildlands. Coal mining is environmentally destructive in many ways, nuclear energy has a waste disposal problem, birds and bats hit turbines, and electricity produced by all three is transmitted over hundreds of thousands of miles of electrical lines that come with their own collision and electrocution risks. At this time, the Raptor Resource Project supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threats posed to birds and people by climate change. But we also believe that wind farms can and should be properly sited and operated in ways that minimize harm to federally-protected species.  We will be following the American Bird Conservancy very closely on this issue and encourage those of you who are concerned about the issue to submit comments. Please remember to write clearly and constructively if you do. I have participated in public comment meetings, and incoherent or inaccurate comments are not taken seriously by rule makers.

I was just emailed this link yesterday: The article is about an Xcel Energy wind project. Xcel Energy was the first company to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which Bob was always very proud of. It shows the benefits that participating in these kinds of programs can yield, as well as the challenges of accommodating a bald eagle population with some very different behaviors and territories than those of America's historic bald eagles.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Decorah North News: DN3 has died

Eaglet DN3 died sometime yesterday. Why did DN3 die? While it didn't get nearly as much food as its larger siblings, it was still shooting poop yesterday, indicating that it had enough in its system to be pooping and excreting urates normally. However, DN3 may not have eaten yesterday and didn't eat much the day before that. It also didn't help that the weather was cold and damp. Mom and Dad North are brooding based on the older nestlings, who no longer require daylight brooding unless it is raining, snowing, or unusually cold. DN1 and DN2 have thermal down, but DN3's thermal down was just beginning to come in and it would have benefited from brooding.

We suspect there is no one cause for DN3's death. The six-day difference between DN3 and its oldest sibling resulted in insurmountable developmental differences, including dominance interactions that DN3 always lost given its much smaller size, a resulting lack of food, and a lack of brooding before it was really able to thermoregulate on its own. Had the weather been warmer, DN3 might have been able to survive even given the shortage of food and dominance interactions with the older two, but all three together were too much.

Are Mom and Dad North bad parents? No. Eagles don't fit neatly into our human ideas about what good parents are. The older two have been thriving under their care. From an eagle point of view, there is no purpose in caring for weaker young that are less likely to survive than healthy young. Personally, I would love to have seen DN3 survive and I was very hopeful up until yesterday afternoon. But as someone who loves and watches birds, I also need to accept that this is what they do. Humans don't make good parents for birds.

Why didn't we intervene? What happened at the North Nest is completely normal from an eagle perspective. It is well-documented that the youngest member of a three-nestling clutch can die, even though we haven't seen it in Decorah or Fort St. Vrain (eaglets have died because of hypothermia and illness at FSV, but those were very straightforward deaths and didn't involve just the youngest sibling). We haven't intervened in these situations in the past and will not moving forward.

Watching wild creatures doesn't give us ownership over them. The lives of 'our eagles' are truly their own and this was yet another example of how we differ from them. Juliet Lamb has some excellent perspective on the relationship between watchers and watched here: