Patty Garcia-Likens, SRP, (602) 236-2500

Nathan Gonzalez, AZGFD, (623) 236-7230
April 21, 2017

SRP, AZ Game and Fish Track Urban Bald Eagles

Effort Will Help Protect Iconic Birds Nesting Close to Cities

Salt River Project recently partnered with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to assist in banding and placing a GPS device on a young bald eagle to track its movements, which will allow wildlife managers and SRP to better understand and ensure the safety of urban nesting eagles.

Media resources

Image of an eagle sitting in nest.

Click here for photos, HD Video with B-roll and interviews with SRP scientist Lesly Swanson and Kenneth Jacobson, Raptor Management Coordinator for Game and Fish.

Bald eagles have traditionally been found near SRP’s reservoirs far from the city, but are now moving to metropolitan Phoenix as their numbers increase. The juvenile bald eagle, found nesting in a dead cottonwood in Phoenix’s West Valley, was the first of six that will receive a GPS backpack unit.

When a bird the size of an eagle perches on a utility pole and stretches out its wings, it’s possible for it to go phase to phase — in other words, to touch two different energized lines on a pole or to touch an energized line and a piece of equipment. The result is nearly always fatal for the bird.

“Unfortunately they’re showing up in areas where people didn’t really expect them to be,” said Lesly Swanson, Senior Environmental Compliance Scientist/Engineer, Biological & Cultural Resource Services. According to Swanson, who is coordinating the project for SRP, “urban areas pose new threats to eagles that they often don’t encounter in remote parts of Arizona.”

SRP can retrofit power lines in areas that urban eagles call home, but Swanson said identifying those locations can be difficult. That’s where the GPS backpack comes in.

Weighing only about 3.5 ounces and fitting in the palm of a hand, the solar-powered GPS unit uses cellular networks to transmit valuable data, including the bird’s location every six seconds in flight and every 15 minutes when perched.

That information will be overlaid on SRP’s overhead electric system to determine whether the birds are using our infrastructure. SRP personnel can then pro-actively evaluate and determine if that equipment is eagle-friendly, Swanson said.

If hazards exist, SRP can retrofit the equipment before an eagle gets in trouble. Eagle guarding requires personnel to factor in the size of the bird (which can have a 5.5- to 8-foot wingspan), the surrounding area and the design of the poles and other equipment.

SRP and Arizona Game and Fish, both members of the Southwest Bald Eagle Management Committee, have been working together for decades to preserve and manage eagle populations.

For this latest effort, Swanson worked with SRP’s Research Advisory Committee to purchase the units. Distribution Maintenance and Transmission Maintenance used their bucket trucks to take a Game and Fish biologist up to the bald eagle’s nest and to allow Audiovisual & Photo Services to document the event from up high.

Kenneth Jacobson, Raptor Management Coordinator for Game and Fish, applauded SRP for acting quickly.

“Salt River Project jumped at the opportunity to track these birds and learn about their habitat use pro-actively,” he said. “They really made — from idea to conception to implementation — this all happen in a very short period of time.”