So far, wintering bald eagles aren't much using the three wood perches installed in the fall of 2017 at Lock & Dam 14 near LeCLaire to replace two trees that were cut down.
The trees — the go-to perches for eagles fishing in the open water below the dam — were cut down in January 2017 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because they were storm-damaged and dying and deemed a hazard to visitors.
Their removal caused immediate concern among eagle watchers such as Jay Brooks, of the Quad-City Photography Club, because the site was "probably the best place in the country to see eagles fishing in the river."
As a possible substitute, the club spearheaded a cooperative effort involving the Corps and MidAmerican Energy Co. to install artificial perches: three 40-foot utility poles, each with six, 8-foot "branches" braced onto the poles, sticking out like spokes.
A few eagles used them last February, toward the end of the season, but mostly they were ignored, said Kyle Slifka, who works near the lock and dam as a natural resources specialist for the Corps' Mississippi River Project office.
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In an effort to attract more eagles, a MidAmerican maintenance crew subsequently returned with a bucket elevator and, using a grinder, roughed up the spokes to make them more like real branches, Slifka said. The crew also narrowed the circumference so eagles could get a more comfortable grip with their talons, he said.
Although it's early to tell if this will do the trick — the bulk of wintering eagles hasn't arrived in the Quad-City area yet this season — the best solution will be for the seven real trees planted in the fall of 2017 to reach the size that eagles like for perching, Slifka said.
The trees were donated by Living Lands & Waters, the environmental organization founded by Chad Pregracke of Hampton and should be of eagle-liking size in 10 to 15 years, Slifka said.
In addition, the Corp intends to do a native seeding in the spring "to boost up the habitat for multiple species as well," he said.
The two trees that were cut down — a silver maple and an elm — sometimes were filled with as many as 20 eagles, and the location became widely known among 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 said.