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Power line fells eagle

Bald eagle sightings can be a high point of the day, but not for Rich Waltsak on Tuesday.

The 52-year-old artist was working in his studio on the Roaring Fork River when he looked out the window and saw a bald eagle plummet to the ground from a power line.

“I heard a zap and saw it dropping off the wire,” Waltsak said. “To see a beautiful bird like that go down, it ruined my day.”



Waltsak’s studio is on the east side of the Roaring Fork River near the Colorado Mountain College turnoff, between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. Holy Cross Energy and Xcel Energy power lines run nearby.

Holy Cross spokesman Bob Gardner said small birds escape electrocution when they perch on power lines because they touch only one line and are not grounded.



The problem for eagles comes because their wing spans are wide enough to touch two wires at the same time. That usually happens when they take off or land on a cross arm at the top of a power line pole.

Gardner said eagles like to perch on high points such as cross arms to survey their habitat. To keep eagles from landing on the T-shaped cross arms, Holy Cross has added extra arms at 45 degree angles to create a pyramid that is not eagle-friendly.

“We’ve spent $100,000 a year on cross arms in sensitive habitat,” Gardner said.

Gardner said eagles can also be electrocuted if they touch a wire and transformer at the same time, or a power line and ground wire at the same time.

Eagles don’t sit on single wires like smaller birds because their claws are too large to get a good grip. And while the electrical charge is not deadly, it is painful.

It’s difficult to confirm whether the eagle was killed on a Holy Cross or Public Service power line.

Xcel spokesman Wade Haerle said his company works with the Colorado Division of Wildlife in eagle habitat. “We take as many precautions as we can,” Haerle said.

Waltsak said, “It never should have happened.”

He pointed to blue herons, who often fly by his studio, and said, “We can’t let this go on.”

Waltsak said he wants to retrieve the bird, which he is sure was electrocuted, have it mounted, and donate it to a school.

DOW area manager Pat Tucker cautioned against such actions.

“A federal permit is required, and individuals can’t get them,” Tucker said. Permits are limited to museums, schools and scientific organizations.

The fine for illegally possessing a bald eagle, or even a few of its feathers, can top $100,000.

Tucker said if the DOW can locate the eagle, agents will take the carcass to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office in Denver for refrigeration. He said its feathers will be distributed to Native Americans, who can legally possess them.


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