Harrison Adds Nesting Boxes

(Left) Harrison employee Cody McIntire installs a peregrine falcon nesting box high above the plant site. (Right) The falcon boxes are mounted atop the building to simulate the natural cliffs and ledges peregrines seek out for nests.‚Äč

August 26, 2020

Harrison Power Station has joined the list of generation facilities participating in a unique program supporting the reestablishment and preservation of America’s peregrine falcon population.

As a plant sustainability project, nesting boxes have been mounted at high, relatively remote points of the power station’s main building.  One is affixed to a roof on the 11th floor, at a height of 150 feet; the other nesting box is on the 14th floor, 220 feet above the ground.

“The height of the boxes and the locations are expected to attract a pair of falcons and give them a good view of the surrounding territory,” said Ed Murphy, manager, Technical Services, who sponsors the plant’s Sustainability Team.

Peregrine falcon populations declined rapidly in the 1950s and ’60s. Researchers discovered that the now-banned pesticide DDT interfered with eggshell formation. By 1968, there were no peregrine falcons east of the Mississippi River and only 19 pairs in the entire country. The species was on the verge of extinction. Rescue came through a captive breeding program.

Electric utilities were crucial to the success of the program, beginning with a single falcon nesting box at a plant in Minnesota in 1989. Within a decade, programs were underway at other utilities across the country, including at FirstEnergy. By the early 2000s, the peregrine falcon was off the endangered species list.

“The preservation of falcons as a species is one of the real ecological success stories of the utility industry, and our plant wanted to be a part of that,” said Ed.

To start a program, Harrison employees turned to Doug Hartman, director, Generation Services. Doug’s prior experience literally helped to write the book on utility falcon nesting programs. He was instrumental in the development of an Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) technical report on falcon nesting at power plants.

“Back when falcons were still a threatened species in Ohio, we worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to put a falcon box at the Eastlake plant,” Doug said. “ODNR representatives would come out to band falcon chicks through 2011.”

Over the next few years, falcon boxes were placed at the Lake Shore, Bayshore, and then Pleasants plants. But as the birds were removed from the endangered species list, banding participation from the ODNR scaled back.

Doug said he was pleased to get a call to assist with Harrison’s nesting program. “FirstEnergy is easily responsible for fledging more than 50 falcon chicks since 2005. But Eastlake has FirstEnergy’s only active nesting pair,” he noted. “I’m really looking forward to watching this new effort at Harrison.”

Ed noted that there’s a lot more to the process than just putting up a box. “There’s site selection, and then there’s a very specific way the box has to be built and mounted,” he said. “After that, there is maintenance and care for the boxes, and protection of the falcons once they nest.”

Falcons don’t build nests in trees or on power poles like most other local raptors. They like cliffsides and rocky ledges, from which the birds can survey their territory and seek out prey. That makes the tall stacks and high buildings of power plants perfect for peregrines. Following EPRI technical specifications, Harrison carpenters built the boxes. They were mounted, then filled with 75 pounds of gravel, which simulates the rocks typically nested on by the birds.

While Harrison’s boxes are in place now, falcons aren’t expected to take up residence until next spring.

“Young birds looking for a territory to establish generally migrate,” said Doug. “Once a falcon finds a box and takes up residence, it will typically stay on site year-round, especially once it finds a mate. The second year on site a nesting pair may breed and raise young.”

With modern technology, it’s possible to place unobtrusive high-quality wireless cameras in nesting boxes, something that wasn’t practical in FirstEnergy’s early efforts. Though falcon hatchlings are a couple of years away, Doug is excited about the plant’s sustainability efforts.

“What’s great about the Harrison effort is that it was home-grown and self-established at the plant,” he said. “That builds on a real employee commitment to environmental sustainability, and I know the employees and local community will find it very rewarding.”

A falcon on a nesting box at the Eastlake Plant in 2001.

Earning Their Keep

Not only are power plants a perfect home for falcons – it turns out that falcons are a big help at power plants. Pigeons are a major problem at many power stations. As a bird of prey, peregrine falcons have been found to be an excellent, eco-friendly means of controlling pigeon populations at generating sites. More than just a nuisance, pigeons can disrupt the safe operations of a plant. Their droppings contaminate transformer switchyards and sensitive pollution control equipment and can create slip-and-fall hazards. Plus, pigeon droppings on plant buildings and equipment, as well as parked cars, carry numerous diseases.