Power plants offer habitat for threatened eagles,
falcons and osprey
and Kim Dickerson, employees of Associated Electric Cooperative's Thomas
Hill Power Plant, prepare to release a peregrine falcon into the
wild. The birds were initially released at the power plant to control
the pigeon population but now are establishing a home at Thomas
Hill, near Moberly.
Several years ago,
Dave Childers had a problem.
Pigeons were bombarding
equipment at the New Madrid Power Plant owned by Associated Electric
Cooperative. His boss suggested he try recruiting falcons to take care
of the pigeons.
One of the favorite foods of falcons is pigeons.
The only problem,
David discovered, was that peregrine falcons were just coming off the
endangered species list. Undaunted, he got permission to join other
Midwest power plants in launching a falcon restoration project at the
Four years later,
David can’t say the project
was a success from a pigeon-free standpoint. But the efforts of Associated’s
employees have helped bring the birds back from the brink. And the
success of this project is just the latest in a string of similar
stories at Associated’s two coal-fired power plants.
New Madrid Power Plant employees mounted a plywood box on the roof
of th eemissions equipment. Into the box went four falcon chicks.
Employees fed the birds until they were old enough to begin flying.
At that point, the bars on the front of the box were removed and
the birds tapped into their natural instincts.
known as the cheetahs of the sky for their incredible speed, nearly
vanished due to poisoning from pesticides.
Bessie, a chick raised at the New Madrid plant, successfully nested.
As scientists worked
to reestablish the species, they discovered the birds liked to hang
out at power plants, preying on the ever-present nuisance birds like
pigeons. Key to the restoration efforts was getting the birds to imprint
a location and return to it after finding a mate.
not quite as easy as we thought in the beginning,” Childers
says. “Mates would have to be very scarce. The experts tell
us it may take 16 to 20 birds for one male to locate a mate and return.
They have a 50 percent mortality rate.”
After three years
of hacking four chicks a year, Childers and his team had no idea whether
their efforts would work. Then he received a call from Mike Cook,
who coordinates the falcon efforts of the World Bird Sanctuary
in St. Louis.
Cook told him that
one of the birds released from the power plant in 2005 had mated and
taken over an existing nest site on an office building in Clayton,
a St. Louis suburb.
“It just happened that the male that had been nesting in Clayton had lost
its longtime mate,” Childers says. “He was searching
around and along came our female.”
That bird, named
Bessie after a bend in the Mississippi River, laid three eggs and succeeded
in hatching one of them, even though she was considered too
Learning Bessie was
not only alive and thriving but had hatched a chick was welcome news
to Childers and the other New Madrid employees. “It’s almost
like your children,” he says. “You send them
off and you just have to keep hoping they are succeeding.
We often talked about Bessie. We wondered what she was doing.”
the New Madrid project has yet to bring a mated pair back
to the plant site, Bessie’s success prompted a similar
project at the Thomas Hill Energy Center, another power
plant owned by Associated. Together the two plants provide
most of the electricity used by electric cooperative members
in Missouri and parts of Iowa and Oklahoma.
|Associated employees get to know the falcon chicks delivered to
the Thomas Hill Energy Center in May. From left are Bill Ramsey,
Bob Hutchison and Kim Dickerson.
located near Moberly, had already done its part to restore
osprey to the state. In 1995 employees built a hacking
tower on the shore of Thomas Hill Lake, a project originally
built to provide cooling water for the plant. Its warm
water offered year-round feeding grounds for the fish-eating
For more than 100
years, no osprey could be found in Missouri. Today it’s
a common site to see them snatching fish from Thomas
Hill Lake or roosting in one of the surrounding trees.
This year Childers
offered his falcon experience to his counterparts at the Thomas Hil
power plant, and in May Cook delivered three falcon chicks to the
north-central Missouri site.
Thomas Hill employees
took turns feeding dead quail to the falcons. Those chicks were released
on June 1, and certainly livened up the work day for the dozen or so
employees on the Thomas Hill Falcon team.
really rewarding just to see them develop,” says Kim
Dickerson, principal environmental coordinator
at the plant. “To look into
their eyes, they are just so intense and alive.
It’s really neat to be
able to help restore them here.”
Kim is watching another set of babies. Less
than a half mile from the plant, a pair of bald eagles
hatched two birds this year. “The babies
are 3 feet tall and brown,” Kim says. “They
are flying too. They are developing about the
same as the falcons.”
and eagles are just a few of the many species
that are benefiting from the careful environmental
stewardship Associated has brought to the
area. Until 1993, coal was mined nearby. When Associated
closed the coal mine due to concern over
the high sulfur content of Missouri coal, the land
was painstakingly restored.
bald eagle takes flight at the Thomas Hill plant. The land
around the plant, once a coal mine, has been painstakingly restored.
were recognized this spring when the Missouri Department of Natural
Resources nominated Associated for a national award,
which it later won, for its reclamation of
the strip-mined land.
“When you walk
the reclaimed fields, woods and wetlands of the Bee Veer mine, you
simply can’t imagine it
was ever a strip mine,” says Mike
Giovanini, revegetation supervisor for
Associated. “The grass is high for
cattle grazing, turkey and deer are back,
the fishing is good.”
In addition, the
two coal-fired power plants Associated owns have seen significant reductions
in emissions. Sulfur dioxide has been reduced
90 percent since 1994 and nitrogen oxide emissions
have been reduced 77 percent. Further reductions
will occur when the $330 million emission-control project
at Thomas Hill is completed.
Dickerson says environmental
stewardship is very much a part of day-to-day business at the cooperative-owned
power plants. “There’s
more of an awareness here for how we are a part of the environment,
and not a negative part,” she
For example, Associated
worked with the Department of Conservation to stock
hybrid striped bass on the lake to
eat gizzard shad that were clogging
water intake structures at the plant.
Now the shad runs are a thing of the
past, and anglers have a great new
fishing resource. “Our shad problems, we just almost don’t
have them,” Dickerson says.
reduced our workload and improved
the efficiency of the plant.”
Associated employees are excited
to be part of these and other
projects. Says New Madrid Power
Plant’s Childers, “It’s
been neat to know you work for
a company that goes beyond the
megawatts and the dollars.”