Engineer designs perch to protect bald eagles

Design cuts birds' risk of electrocution

Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2000

SEWARD - The odds of a bald eagle escaping electrocution in this Kenai Peninsula community are better than what they were five years ago, thanks to a city utility manager with a soft spot for the huge birds.

Dave Calvert has been observing eagles scanning the bay for fish while perched high atop waterfront utility poles ever since his arrival in Seward a decade ago.

His knowledge about their habits and rituals has grown over the years, as he's watched them from the windows of his home skirting the edge of a cliff high above the Seward Lagoon.

But the electrical engineer also knows about the dangers associated with their lookouts.

While distribution poles provide birds with a great vantage point, the high voltage wires running between the poles can be fatal.

One day five years ago, something happened to propel Calvert into reducing that danger.

``I'd watch two of them sitting on a pole . . . and then one day there was only one. Kinda broke my heart to see just one of them,'' he said. ``They mate for life.''

Eagles are electrocuted when their wings come into contact with the lines while lifting off the poles, sending 12,500 volts through their bodies, Calvert said. ``A lot of people are killed on 120 volts.''

The lines are 3 feet apart and an eagle's wing span can be as much as 3 feet, he said.

With materials from the city shop, lineman Bill Perdue took his boss' concept and designed a 4-foot high wooden eagle perch that attaches to the pole's cross arms, placing the bird's wing span beyond the reach of the high-voltage wires.

Calvert estimates labor and materials at $1,000 per perch.

Since that time, six perches have been installed on top of utility poles along the waterfront or in areas where eagles commonly sit, said line foreman Kim Hasty. Four more are to go up when weather permits.

``We can't put them on every pole,'' Calvert said. ``But we certainly want to protect the birds.''

It's not only large birds that are susceptible to such a fate.

A designated sea gull pole near Seward Fisheries now has a perch. ``We've fried a lot of those suckers,'' Calvert said.

One clever eagle found another use for the hot utility wires.

Last spring, an eagle lugged a king salmon to the top of one pole and dropped the fish onto the wires, frying his meal and knocking out power to about 20 area customers, Calvert said.

``Just an eagle cooking his dinner,'' Calvert said with a laugh.

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