When Great River Energy decided to close its Elk River facility, Brenda Geisler, a 20-year Great River Energy employee and resident raptor expert, immediately started work on relocating the plant’s nest box. “A lot of co-ops are experiencing plant retirements and a lot have peregrine nests,” she says. “Moving this nest is a way to keep this a legacy for this plant and others.”
Brenda Geisler holds a nestling falcon
To find the right accommodations in time for the birds’ 2020 return, Geisler assembled a 24-member team. After several meetings, the team decided to mount the nest box atop a 90-foot power pole stabilized by guy wires. “Peregrine falcons prefer to nest hundreds of feet above the ground and near a reliable food source,” said John Howe, executive director of the Raptor Resource Project and one of the wildlife specialists on the team. “Other than the turbine building [at Elk River Station], the highest facility structures at the site were only a couple stories high with employee traffic coming and going almost daily.
“Then Brenda shared an idea she had of using a large utility pole. We thought that just might work, since it was close by and a familiar area in the vicinity of their original nest box.”
Great River Energy’s Pole Nestbox
A New Home
Geisler designed a spacious box with perches outside every corner. Lightning protection was added to the pole and a 3-foot wide sheet of metal was wrapped around its base to guard against racoon invasions. On January 30, three linemen raised the pole on a slope above a Great River Energy pollinator garden of native flowers, grasses, and foliage. Down the hill is Interstate 10 and the Mississippi River, which the falcons use as a highway to travel south for the winter and back in spring.
A look at the pole nestbox
Would peregrines adopt their new home? On March 3, the team got their answer when residents Breezy and Brooklyn appeared along the river. The sharp-eyed raptors spied the new nesting box high on a pole next to the now nearly demolished power plant. “I was wondering if they were going to accept the new nesting box and location, if it was going to be good enough,” Geisler says. “I felt a lot of relief when I saw them lay their first eggs.”
Great River Energy’s team had achieved a rare accomplishment in falcon conservation. “We have successfully relocated peregrine falcon nest boxes before, but not using a free-standing pole,” says Amy Ries, who manages the peregrine falcon monitoring program for the Raptor Resource Project. “Great River Energy’s project was the first pole-mounted nest box relocation we are aware of, and we were very excited when Breezy and Brooklyn adopted it—and even more excited when they raised four healthy young this spring.”
Healthy young falcons in the new nest box at GRE
“This project is significant, because it shows that peregrine falcons will occupy and nest in artificial nest box towers in the absence of natural cliffs or tall buildings,” Howe says. “The GRE Elk River facility has been a productive falcon nest site, and with the care and ingenuity of Brenda and the Great River Energy team, it will be for years to come.”
This story was written by Cathy Cash for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association: https://www.electric.coop/. It ran in the December 2020 issue of RE Magazine: https://www.cooperative.com/remagazine/Pages/default.aspx.