Winter Newsletter 2018

Welcome to the Raptor Resource Project’s Winter 2018 newsletter! You can view it in HTML format below, or PDF format here: Winter 2018 Newsletter.

Message from the Director

RRP Director John Howe

RRP Director John Howe

Please sit down, relax, and join me in reading through this newsletter.  The year has been filled with change and I’m pleased that we did a good job of handling what has come our way.  One of the best examples is dealing with the loss of our beloved eagle – Dad Decorah.  We knew it would eventually happen but being prepared is a different story.  That change at the fish hatchery nest has opened opportunities to watch nature unscripted.  We observed Mom Decorah care for three young eagles and bring them to fledge and dispersal beautifully on her own.  Now we are watching her select a new mate and prepare for the coming nesting cycle with him – how exciting!  Late in the summer, we were surprised to see our Decorah North eagle nest get soaked in heavy rains and collapse through the supporting branches to the ground.  Again, the change gave us an opportunity to rebuild the nest and draw on our knowledge and skill to make something that the eagles would accept as their own.  Our current eagle pair is adding to the nest and looks to be preparing for egg laying in February!  Your care and generous support helped bring us through a very difficult time.  This is as good a time as any to deliver a warm Thank You!  Change of this magnitude is not easy and I’m reminded how our young classroom viewers handled the loss and changes at our eagle nests.  Their simple and genuine acceptance of the events with inquiring minds was a joy for both their teachers and many of us too.

I’m happy to report that our field research and monitoring programs are growing with excellent contributions from volunteers and staff. By design, that growth led to increased interaction with landowner partners, students, and the public. I encourage you to look over our annual report, which can be found here:  

We are very excited about our new partnerships with:  (1) Cornell University and Neil Rettig Productions (Wisconsin Kestrel cam); and (2) the National Wildlife & Fish Refuge and the Brice Prairie Conservation Association (Mississippi River Flyway cam).  We learned about kestrels and got some good laughs watching their antics.  We could not have imagined the beauty that would unfold watching details of annual raptor and waterfowl migration on the Mississippi River in Lake Onalaska.

I’m very pleased with the growth of our raptor education programs that span from Kindergarten to college students.  The Education-in-Action program nearly doubled in size this year.  I am so impressed by our volunteer effort and their interaction with willing teachers across the country.  Our collaborative bird banding and trapping station with Luther College was a huge success too, introducing K-12 students to live raptors and providing college students and staff a unique opportunity to engage in real-world field research by trapping, examining, banding and releasing birds of prey. 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year and we are very happy to share it with you, our partners, volunteers, and friends!

Thanks again for all you do!

Project Spotlight: Bald Eagle Tracking

December 17, 2018: D27's Map

December 17, 2018: D27’s Map

We regularly update followers on D27’s latest map. We thought it would be fun to step back, take a wider look at her travels since we began tracking her in 2017, and recap the adventures of other eagles we’ve tracked.

D27 is a female subadult eagle who hatched in N2B on April 1st of 2017. She fledged on June 22nd and was trapped and fitted her with a transmitter on August 7th (you can read more about that here: On August 9, we were thrilled to get her first airmail from a tree right next to N2B. Where would she go? What would happen to her? What would we learn? Our grand adventure had just started!

D27’s initial explorations followed a pretty familiar pattern. She made several small excursions before taking a trip over to the Mississippi river, ending up about 49 miles from home before turning south again. After a brief return to her natal territory (if not N2B itself), she spent the winter along the Mississippi River and its tributaries in SE Iowa – an excellent place for wintering eagles. We couldn’t find her, but photos taken by Lori Carnes show that she had plenty of company!

D27 turned north again in late February of 2018, wandering around NE Iowa and SE Minnesota before bolting north on May 8th. Like her 2011 clutch-sister D1, she made quite a trip! Between May 8 and May 31st, she flew 725.7 miles to northwestern Ontario, Canada. She wandered around that part of the province, eventually ending up near Sandy Lake, until August 8th, when she very abruptly headed south. Between August 8th and August 18th, she flew 595 miles south to the Minneapolis/St. Paul MN area. She put nearly half of those miles between August 8th and August 11th. Why did she hightail it south so quickly? We think that smoke from fires burning in Canada and the United States pushed her south. There were air quality alerts issued in that part of Ontario the day before she left and the closest weather station showed extremely high temperatures and very smoky air. A very similar thing happened to D1 in September of 2011. Tracking eagles gives us a glimpse of the ways that major weather events can impact their lives: a sobering thought given that bald eagles can fly away. Most wildlife impacted by large-scale wildfires don’t have that option.

As of this writing, D27 has logged 4757 miles. She is currently hanging out along the Upper Iowa River near Decorah. She thrilled us all when she showed up right next to N2B on October 19th, although she wasn’t quite close enough to be caught on camera! We are waiting to see where she will decide to winter – and still hoping to hear from D24, the last surviving hatchling from the 2016 season.

We started tracking our eagles to answer the question followers most often asked about them: where do they go after they leave the nest? We’ve learned that – and so much more!

  • Who would ever have suspected that an eagle from Decorah, Iowa, would choose to summer over 900 miles north of her natal nest? Bald eagle D1, a 2011 hatch widely believed to be E2, spent her summers in Polar Bear Park on the shore of Hudson Bay. We tracked her from 2011 through June of 2014, when we lost track of her. During that time, she logged over 9500 miles – the farthest-ranging Decorah Eagle we’ve tracked so far!
  • What are the biggest hazards our eagles face? We had no idea that electrocution would take such a toll. Indy, D14, and Four were all electrocuted, while D25 was killed in a collision with a car.
  • When do eaglets leave the nest for good? Traveler D1 left on August 13 of 2011, D14 left on September 22 of 2012, Four finally left on October 18 of 2014, and D27 left on August 17 of 2017. Do siblings disperse together? While we were only able to track siblings once, D24 and D25 dispersed separately despite spending a lot of post-fledge, pre-dispersal time together.
  • We also learned that wildfire-related smoke plumes can drive eagles away. In September of 2011, D1 appears to have been turned back from northern Minnesota by the massive Pagami Creek fire and D27 left her summering grounds very abruptly in the summer of 2018 following an explosion of wildfire on the west coast and in northwestern Ontario.

A million thanks to Brett Mandernack and the staff of Eagle Valley for tracking our eagles and sharing their data and maps with us. The things we’ve learned because of them have helped make power lines and poles safer and given us important insights into the lives of the eagles we watch and love.

If you’d like to follow D27 or learn more about any of the eagles we’ve tracked, friend us on Facebook or visit to explore our interactive maps.

Partner Spotlight: Xcel Energy

2019 was a great year at our Xcel Energy partner sites! The Fort St. Vrain Bald Eagles (our first eagle cam) successfully fledged three eaglets (FSV36, 37, and 38), the Great Blue Heron rookery at Riverside continued to produce, and 17 falcons were produced at seven plants in Minnesota and Wisconsin. So how long have we been working with Xcel Energy and when did our utility-peregrine program begin?

The Raptor Resource Project has partnered with Xcel Energy since 1988, when a plant employee spotted a rare peregrine falcon at the Allen S. King plant in Oak Park Heights, MN. Xcel Energy and RRP responded by building and installing a nest box that attracted a sub-adult peregrine falcon named Mae, who in 1990 fostered two young produced by RRP. How important was this? The “class” of 1990 – all the peregrine falcons produced or fostered in the United States and Canada – consisted of just 30 falcons.  The King plant sighting became the start of a nest-box and bird cam program that has since been duplicated by utilities around the world, with astonishing results. Well over 1,000 peregrine falcons have been produced at utilities in the midwestern United States and Canada alone!

Xcel Energy employees are stewards of wildlife at their utilities and on utility land – some of the last places people might expect to find wildlife. But as Xcel eagle, falcon, owl, and heron cams have shown, power plants are home to a wide variety of animals. Employees put up and maintain nest boxes, track young birds as they fledge, and share their birds with their families and the wider community. In 2019, we’ll be working with Xcel to roll out new cameras, replace old peregrine nest boxes, and explore habitat improvement projects such as kestrel nest boxes. Xcel Energy updated their Bird Cam website to improve navigation and enhance watcher experience. We remain impressed with Xcel Energy’s commitment to coexisting responsibly with wildlife and the natural habitats that surround their facilities.

To watch Xcel Energy’s Peregrine Falcons and other birds, go to The birds can also be watched on our website at

Book: Mae, the story of a Peregrine Falcon
Mae, the first peregrine falcon to nest at a power plant, could also be called Super Mae! She lived at the Allen S. King plant and was featured in a book, an advertisement, a conservation curriculum, and as a stuffed toy that was given to classes who attended Xcel Energy falcon bandings. Although she died in 2003, some of her over 137 descendants are still nesting on power plants today! A 4-H group attends the Riverside banding in 2018. Power plants are an excellent home for peregrine falcons. According to a report from the Raptor Center, smokestacks are the most productive type of site: better than buildings, cliffs, and bridges. A three-year study conducted by EPRI and the Raptor Resource Project found that power plant peregrines do not have elevated levels of heavy metals or reduced productivity relative to peregrines at other types of sites.

Leaving a Legacy

We are proud and honored to have received bequests this year.  Many devoted Decorah Eagles followers express in their own special way what a difference being able to watch ‘their eagles’ has made in their lives. Whether it be a family or personal request to donate to RRP or a formal bequest, these thoughtful gifts have a profound impact on how we deliver on our mission.  We are very thankful for donations to help us carry out what we do.  What is a bequest?  It is the act of giving or leaving something by will.  A synonym is – Legacy.  We are honored to share a little bit of information about two Decorah Eagle followers that wanted to make a difference.

JudyB, aka Gigglepup

Judith Batinchok

Judith Batinchok, also known as GigglePup, was an avid Eagles watcher.  She watched daily as the eagles brought great joy to her daily routine, especially during her last few years.  This donation (her bequest) was her way of saying “Thank You” for providing service to all the present and future eagle watchers out there.  You can see from the attached photo and the smile on her face that she was a proud member of the “Cottonwood Club”!

Janice Bosworth was an RRP Decorah Eagles Moderator and loved the eagles.  Jan loved her role as a volunteer, working with her fellow Mods, and especially the chatters.  She got along with everyone and was always greeted with love from the chatters.  Her commitment was unwavering, and she is missed!

We are very honored that Judith and Janice chose to support the Raptor Resource Project in this way.  We know from so many letters and accounts from Decorah Eagle followers that the excitement and joy of watching them raise their young and just “be eagles” is a motivational factor to get up every day.  It is humbling to know that bringing the Decorah Eagles and our other raptors to the public can have such a lasting impact on people’s lives, friendships, and families.

Update: Banding Station

Resource Enhancement and Protection LogoA Conservation Education Program grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources allowed Luther College and the Decorah Raptor Resource Project to build an autumn migration banding station on campus to collect data, provide field-based research opportunities, and deliver environmental education to youth. The banding station, located on Hawk Hill on the northeast edge of the Luther campus, is large enough for classes to observe wild birds, band them, and gather data before releasing them back into the wild. The station was manned by master banders David Kester and John Stravers. Emily Neal worked with Luther College, Upper Iowa College, and local schools and homeschooling families to arrange field-based outreach opportunities and deliver environmental education.

In 2018, we hired six Luther College students and an additional intern to help trap 62 birds of prey from six species, including 35 hatch year Red-Tailed Hawks, 4 Cooper’s Hawks, a juvenile Northern Goshawk, and a Bald Eagle! Follow this link for a complete breakdown of species (and some photos): Of special interest was a Krider’s Hawk, a pale Red-tailed Hawk subspecies that breeds in the northwestern plains. Prior to our catch, which was verified by expert Jerry Ligouri, there were no documented sightings in the Decorah area.

David Kester and Emily Neal, our two principles on the project, delivered our environmental education program to 375 K-2 public students in the Decorah area and gave field trips to 12 home-schooled students. We also increased our college visits over last year: in addition to our interns, 85 college students – three classes from Luther and two classes from Upper Iowa University – visited the blind.  The Hawk Hill Banding Station has been very successful in gathering research data, providing field-based research opportunities, and delivering environmental education to youth. Our Board has committed to funding more research in the years to come!

Our mission calls on us to preserve and strengthen raptor populations and foster the next generation of preservationists. Our banding station is an essential part of that charge. We are very grateful to the Iowa DNR for funding our program. The Iowa DNR and local conservation boards do a wonderful job protecting Iowa’s resources. To learn more about Iowa’s Conservation Education Program, please follow this link:

Teacher’s Corner…The Decorah Eagle Education Facebook page

Learning with Bald Eagles!

Learning with Bald Eagles!

The Decorah Eagle Education Facebook page is a closed group created for educators.  Its purpose is to provide a place to share classroom activities that pertain to the Decorah Eagles.  Members of the group include teachers, media specialists, library aides, counselors, speech and language therapists, administrators, moderators of chat, and Raptor Resource Project staff.

I began using the Decorah Eagle webcam during the 2010 – 2011 season, each year finding new ways that the live stream could be used to teach concepts in all areas of the curriculum. Through the years I had connected with teachers on Facebook, who also use the webcam to enhance their teaching, and had a desire to be able to communicate with a larger number of educators.  This desire increased when Raptor Resource Project started the dedicated education chat on April 15, 2015 . After much thought, and running the idea by a couple of the moderators, the Decorah Eagle Education Facebook group was started in March of 2017.  The group has grown to 204 members from all over the United States.  It encompasses educators that teach students from preschool to high school.

Educators post learning activities along with pictures of the students and their work with the understanding that others are free to use these ideas in their own classrooms. Videos that have been captured from the live stream are shared with explanations of how they can be used in learning activities. Posts from the Raptor Resource Facebook page are often included and the group page is a place where questions can be asked and answered.  Classrooms have teamed up in learning activities, forming bonds that teachers and students will always remember, all centered around our wonderful Decorah Eagles!

Are you a member of our online classroom? Educators, including homeschoolers, are welcome! To create an account, go to We have a Decorah eagles feed, a chat, a link to the Decorah Eagle Education page, and free downloadable curriculum. The classroom is COPA-compliant.

Robert Anderson Memorial Scholarship

Bob and Belinda at the Allen S. King plant

Bob and Belinda at the Allen S. King plant

Update – We have reached the milestone of offering our first scholarship for the 2019 school year!  We will provide more details after the scholarship is awarded, but candidates will be identified and applications reviewed for a $1,500 scholarship in early 2019.

The Robert Anderson Memorial Scholarship Fund was created to honor Bob’s passion for raptors and to support local students on their way to environmental conservation careers. The Raptor Resource Project has partnered with the Winneshiek County Community Foundation and Luther College to deliver scholarships to selected Luther College students. Gifts are received through contributions, bequests, charitable trust remainders, and other gifts directed to the Fund. Students will be selected on criteria including demonstrated concern for the environment through positive environmental activism and community involvement or independent studies related to environmentalism. To make donations to the fund, contact the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa at 319-287-9106 or go to the donation page: