Three falcon chicks banded at Campbell plant

Alexander Sinn • Jun 3, 2019 at 9:00 AM

A pair of peregrine falcons swooped and cawed as they circled their nest atop a smoke stack in West Olive on Friday.

The birds were not happy.

The new parents’ three young chicks were in the hands of human helpers, who were attaching bands to their legs to track the birds into maturity.

The Consumers Energy J.H. Campbell Generating Complex and other man-made structures have been part of the success story for the federally-protected and state-endangered birds in Michigan.

Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Nik Kalejs has been tagging the birds for much of his 38-year career. Around 2000, he said, the birds began their comeback at the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power J.B. Sims plant on Harbor Island, where banding of falcon chicks will take place next week.

“It’s a great privilege to be part of a restoration of a truly unique species like the peregrine falcon,” he said. “There’s nothing like it in the air.”

The two male and one female chick were about 25 days old when they got their bands. An aluminum band identifies the bird for federal protections, while a colored band can help birders and others ID the bird from a distance.

It won’t be long until the chicks begin practicing flight, Kalejs said. The first leap of faith doesn’t always go smoothly, he said, but even if they survive a landing on a lower ledge or ground level the parents will continue to care for them as they learn the ropes. Eventually, they’ll reach their adult parents’ flight capabilities, reaching top speeds of 240 mph. 

The future for the mating pairs who choose coal plant smoke stacks is uncertain, as energy companies transition away from fossil fuels. Kalejs said the birds naturally prefer cliffs and have bred in the Huron Mountains and Mackinac Island, but in Lower Michigan they rely on tall buildings.

Consumers Energy’s long term energy plan entails reducing emissions by 90 percent by 2040. This includes the closure of the Campbell Complex and other coal plants throughout Michigan.

In Grand Haven, the BLP plans to close the Sims power plant in June 2020, making a majority of energy purchases off the grid and building a small, gas-fired engine.

What will become of the nests as the stacks are dismantled is uncertain. Lakeshore Community Affairs Manager Rich Houtteman, who assisted with Friday’s bird banding, said the company will take direction from the DNR on the bird banding program.

“We’ll always use the DNR’s guidance,” he said. “We’re not the experts, they are.”

Houtteman said Consumers provides several acres of habitat at the Campbell site, home to numerous bird species and a doe and her fawn spotted near the entrance Friday. Consumers spokesperson Debra Dodd shared a recent rescue of an endangered turtle and her clutch of eggs at another Consumers property. 

The possible disappearance of nesting sites is a side-effect of utilities moving toward renewable resources, while Houtteman said Consumers has also sought to use less water.

“We think it’s the right thing to do, and our customers like it as well,” he said. “We want to leave it better than we found it.”

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