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Researchers Climb Duluth Power Plant to Study Peregrine Falcons

Updated: 06/25/2014 10:13 AM
Created: 06/24/2014 6:16 PM WDIO.com
By: Briggs LeSavage
blesavage@wdio.com

Three month-old peregrine falcon chicks received bands and health checks Tuesday as part of the Raptor Resource Center’s project to help the birds thrive in the wild.

Two Minnesota Power employees along with Amy Ries of the Raptor Resource Project climbed the about 250-foot Hibbard Renewable Energy Center stack in Duluth where the three chicks are nesting to band their legs with tracking information. Raptor Resource Center Director Bob Anderson said he started the partnership between power plants and his resource center about 25 years ago, and since then, he has learned a lot about tracking the birds.

“We've learned, for example, by putting bands on, the males that fledge from this site will probably go off and stay within 70 miles,” Anderson said. “We’ve learned that from band recoveries, and we know that females will go off to breed within 200 miles ... and we only learned that by putting bands on their legs.”

While Minnesota Power was one of the first utilities to join the program, the Raptor Resource Center has banded thousands of peregrines by placing nesting boxes on the utility stacks across the state and the upper Midwest.

“We found some common ground between industry and conservation,” Anderson said. “It’s an unusual marriage. It’s an odd marriage, but it's one that works.”

Since 2008, 15 peregrines have been hatched and branded at Hibbard. The bands show that the bird is from the Midwest and also allows them to be identified and entered in the University of Minnesota research database. Anderson said the banding makes it possible for the research center to keep track of the birds’ track over their lifetime.

Anderson said the peregrine falcon faced extinction in the mid-1950s when the use of pesticides and DDT spiked. He said once DDT use lowered, the peregrine population started to thrive again with a little help.

"we found DDT in the fat cells of the female peregrine, and that was causing her to lay eggs shells that were too thin, and they would break," Anderson said.

Anderson said he is proud of the project’s contribution to the peregrine population.

“The peregrine needed help. We had to breed a couple in captivity and then release a few to create a seed population,” Anderson said.

Researchers and safety guides hold a peregrine falcon chick at the top of Hibbard Renewable Energy Center in Duluth.

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