Will wintering bald eagles use the three new perches that were installed at Lock & Dam 14 near LeClaire last fall as a replacement for two trees that were cut down?
The answer should be known shortly, said Kyle Slifka, who works near the lock and dam as a natural resources specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Mississippi River Project office.
Because eagles have just started coming into the Quad-City area with the colder temperatures, there hasn't been time to give the perches a fair test, he said.
The perches are built like artificial trees. They consist of 40-foot utility poles, each with six 8-foot "branches" braced onto the poles, sticking out like spokes. Each branch is about four inches square, with rounded edges to make them easier for the eagles to grasp.
They were installed in September by MidAmerican Energy in a cooperative project involving the Corps and MidAmerican, spearheaded by members of the Quad-City Photography Club.
Club members including Jay Brooks became concerned last January when the Corps cut down the trees, a silver maple and an elm, just downstream from the lock and dam on Smith's Island.
Although the trees were storm-damaged and dying and deemed a hazard to visitors by the Corps, Brooks and other eagle-watchers knew they were the eagles' go-to trees.
Whenever eagles fishing in the open water below the lock needed a perch from which to watch — or eat their catch — they flew into those trees.
Sometimes the trees were filled with as many as 20 eagles, and the location became known as the go-to place for people, too — bird-watchers and photographers hoping to get views or shots of eagles swooping into the water to grab fish. Busloads of people, and from all over the country, frequented the spot.
Brooks and other photographers who had come to call the site "the office," because they visited it so much, were devastated. The site was "probably the best place in the country to see eagles fishing in the river," Brooks said.
Brooks, Burt Gearhart, Tim Brandenburg and others contacted the Corps to see what they could do, and the Corps was receptive.
"Those trees were pretty important resources for both recreationists and eagles ... and we knew we had to get involved," Slifka said.
And once MidAmerican got wind of a need, it jumped in as part of its community betterment program, said Austin Henry, electric operations manager for the Iowa Quad-Cities. The company paid for materials and labor.
Ultimately, the eagles will decide whether the artificial perch project is a success, Slifka said. "There's not a lot of research on this."