The hard-luck Decorah eagles took another blow Tuesday when the only male among this year’s three hatchlings was electrocuted while perching on a transmission line near Decorah.
“I feel sad for all the people who care about the Decorah eagles and wish them well,” said Bob Anderson, director of the Raptor Resource Project, whose nest cam is viewed by millions.
One of the dead eagle’s two sisters suffered a broken wing last month and, after surgery, is under treatment with an uncertain prognosis at Saving Our Avian Resources, a rehabilitation clinic near Dedham in western Iowa.
Three of the last nine eagles hatched at the Decorah nest have been electrocuted, Anderson said. Eagles designated D12 and D14 were electrocuted in 2012.
The dead male and his one remaining sister had been fitted with satellite radio transmitters to help Anderson and other researchers track their travels.
The dead eagle’s “flying prowess led us to believe that we would have a long-lived male eagle to compliment the data from our famous D1,” a 2011 hatchling now spending her third summer near Canada’s Hudson Bay, Anderson said.
After Tuesday’s electrocution, Anderson said he had an epiphany.
“You hear so much about the dangers posed by wind generators to eagles and other birds, but it just dawned on me — they may actually pose a lesser threat to eagles than power distribution and transmission lines,” he said.
Anderson said eagles and other birds usually avoid transmission lines because they can sense the high voltage passing through them.
Anderson said the dead eagle’s feet had been singed and one wing had been almost blown off. “It was an obvious electrocution,” he said.
“It’s a distressing incident, and we are saddened by the loss,” said Tom Petersen, communications director for ITC Midwest, whose electricity transmission line near Decorah was the source of the current that electrocuted the eagle.
“As far as we know, this is a relatively rare occurrence,” he said.
Petersen said the Cedar Rapids-based company detected a blip in its transmission and sent a technician to investigate. The technician found the dead eagle beneath the transmission line, he said.
“We work hard to ensure that protective devices are in place where they can be,” he said.
After the death was discovered, Peterson said the company contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an attempt to identify the cause of the contact and assess steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of another incident.
Petersen said the transmission line carried 69,000 volts, which “is not much higher voltage than most distribution lines.”
Peterson described ITC Midwest, which operates more than 6,600 circuit miles of transmission lines in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri, as environmentally conscious.
ITC Midwest recently earned the Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence Award in recognition of the company’s habitat restoration efforts in its transmission corridors.
The citation noted the company’s efforts to remove invasive species, promote establishment of native short woody plants that are naturally compatible with required line clearance, and modify vegetation management techniques to minimize impacts to rare species.
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