Fort Saint Vrain Eagle Nest Rebuild Project

By John Howe. We surprised the Fort St. Vrain Eagles with a new nest! 

Late August to early September is our typical time period for completing eagle nest cam maintenance at the Xcel Energy facility in Fort Saint Vrain Colorado. We were hit with a big surprise the week before heading out for a routine camera cleaning project when we heard from Bill Heston. Bill, our local Xcel Energy eagle cam expert and facility engineer, reported that about 75% of the nest fell to the ground after high winds in the Platteville, CO area on August 29 and 30!

The photo of Amy Ries in the nest during 2017 nest cam maintenance activities shows the structure of the nest and how much of it was supported by a dead branch that was slowly losing its strength. We were surprised that the dead branch supporting most of the nest had finally given way and we were now faced with a problem – what to do?

August of 2017: Amy in the Forth St. Vrain nest

August of 2017: Amy in the Fort St. Vrain nest

It is very challenging to engineer a stable branch addition at the top of a tree with dynamic movement and wind action. RRP Director John Howe had an idea for a replacement branch, using the current Y-structure of the remaining tree branches and common building materials. He conferred with Bill and the two constructed a replacement branch in about 90 minutes. Our new bionic branch was made of pressure treated, outdoor-use rated lumber, aluminum angle bar, gate-hangers, and stainless-steel cable. Bill’s expertise in running a boom lift was very handy and allowed for many trips up and down to and from the nest.

The nest rebuilding plan looked like this:

  • Design & build replacement branch
  • Gather useable nest material from the ground
  • Anchor new branch at base of existing “Y” tree structure with a hinge joint and tie it to the existing supports with steel cables
  • Raise nest material and rebuild nest on North side of tree
  • Reposition and clean cameras

Xcel employee Tina Lopez and her husband Mario sorted and gathered usable sticks from the nest pile on the ground and surrounding area while Bill and John attached the new branch (for a total of 3 support branches), anchored the cables at two levels to the 2 main branches, and lifted approximately 8 loads of branches up into the tree to rebuild the nest. The majority of the new branch and support cables were covered with the new nest material and then compressed by moderate jumping on the nest. All work was completed from the safety of the boom lift cage with fall protection equipment or in the case of nest work while anchored with fall protection equipment. All our work was completed with COVID-19 in mind, using masks, gloves, sanitizer, and distance too!

The last step was to test, reposition, and clean the two nest cameras. The old nest was oriented to the South side of the tree and not in view anymore. The new nest is oriented to the North side. After six hours of nest construction and camera work, the project was complete. Local Xcel Energy staff noticed the eagles back on the nest and perching on the top of the new branch as early as September 12!

September 12, 2020: Eagles back on the nest!

September 12, 2020: Eagles back on the nest!

It looks like they are putting their new nest to use. We will continue to post updates on eagle activity at the Fort Saint Vrain nest as we receive them from Xcel Staff.