When a pair of adult eagles first were spotted nesting on then-Alcoa Davenport Works' property in 2010, the plant's maintenance workers seriously questioned the company's idea to install a web camera over the nest.
''They thought I was crazy," recalled John Riches, spokesman for the now Arconic Davenport Works. "After the first season, they came back and apologized."
Now seven seasons later, there is no question about the popularity of the nest's occupants — eagles Liberty and Justice. The pair and their eaglets have attracted nearly 35 million web visits from around the world to the Arconic Eaglecam since its inception in 2011. An accompanying Eaglecam blog, authored by Riches, has drawn nearly 100,000 comments from fans.
The majestic birds' daily routines, the laying and hatching of their eggs, and the eaglets they have fledged have been of interest to fans near and far, including a number of classrooms and other organizations. Of the 14 eaglets fledged by the pair, 12 have been named by Eaglecam fans, Riches said.
First installed in the fall of 2010, the webcam was rolled out to the public with a live feed on Eaglecam's website in early 2011 during the annual Bald Eagle Days event.
Over the years, Eaglecam has hit several milestones from the number of website visitors to the growing interest each spring when the eggs hatch as well as widespread interest among school classes and other organizations. In fact, a group of Midwest scientists entered a second year in 2017 of studying the Arconic eaglets.
Eagle migration study
Riches said as part of a telemetry study by West Virginia University and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, scientists arrived on site last summer to band the three new eaglets. In all, the researchers have banded five eaglets at the Riverdale plant with special GPS transmitters.
Known as the Midwest Bald Eagle Project, the project has banded dozens of eagles across the Midwest to track and capture data about their flight patterns.
At Arconic, wildlife experts and plant personnel brought the three eaglets that fledged last spring -- Apollo, Gemini and Mercury -- out of their nest to equip them with transmitters that enable the scientists to collect data about their whereabouts. The study will determine their migration patterns to provide data that can help direct where manmade structures — such as wind turbines and towers — should and should not be located.
Through Eaglecam's blog, Riches updates viewers about their whereabouts. He hopes eventually that viewers will have access to a map function so they can check on the birds' locations for themselves.
As of late December, Riches said the five eagles were scattered across the Midwest: Star and Sky, who hatched in 2016, were in southwest Wisconsin and Burlington, Iowa, respectively. While Mercury was down south and east of St. Louis; Gemini was south and west of Peoria; and Apollo was north of Springfield, Missouri.
Riches said 2017 marked a turning point when Liberty and Justice returned to a new nest they built at Arconic the year before. About Memorial Day 2016, their original nest collapsed. While the pair built a new nest that year in the same tree, he said, "this year (2017) was the first year they used that new nest."
"Until they actually used it to raise a hatch, you couldn't be certain that it was what was going to happen," Riches said.
But recent activity in the nest by Liberty and Justice, shows they are back for the 2018 season (their eighth season) on the riverfront property. "It's clear from the work they've been doing, they intend to use it again this year," he said.
Traditionally, the pair's eggs are laid in early to mid-February and hatch about 35 days later. Once the eggs are laid, there is more activity for Eaglecam fans to watch "as somebody will be on the nest 24/7," he said of the eagle parents.