The Eagle Project

Now that it’s 2011 and the house blog is complete, it’s time to start writing on Mike Industries again. While one could argue this is a better post for the house blog, it’s really an independent design project so I’m posting it here.

In a nutshell, I want to build some sort of structure that will encourage eagles to land on it. I know very little about eagles, but I do know that before the top of a giant dead tree in my neighbor’s yard snapped off last year, we had eagles landing on it almost every week. Now, they just occasionally fly by and never seem to hang out. So the thought is, if I can build some sort of structure that has similar perching qualities to that dead tree, eagles should theoretically start landing on it.

Here is what I think I know about those qualities:

  • The structure must be one of the tallest things in the immediate vicinity, although not necessarily the tallest
  • It should have some sort of horizontal bar of a particular gauge on top of it for the eagles to wrap their claws around
  • The perching area should be sparse. Eagles like having an unobstructed view of the territory below them.
  • It does not seem necessary for the structure to actually look like a tree, as eagles perch on inorganic structures like street lights all the time.
  • Should there be a good areas to build a nest near the top? I don’t know.

So far, I’ve thought of four different types of structures to build/commission/procure: a wooden totem pole, a rustic weathervane looking thing, a vertical rusty iron sculpture, and a temped-up PVC pole.

The totem pole

Installing an unpainted totem pole would work well because it eliminates the “what the fuck is that thing in your yard” factor. Everyone knows what totem poles are and it would fit well with the Native American culture that pervades the Pacific Northwest. The downside, however, is that I certainly couldn’t make it myself and it may be hard to find the right one. It would need to be maybe 50 feet tall, would be extremely heavy, and would be very permanent once installed. If eagles decided they didn’t like it, I’d be stuck removing it, which seems like a chore and a half.


For the weathervane, I’m envisioning as skinny of a metal pole as possible (maybe something like rebar) and then some sort of sculpture at the top of it that looks like a weathervane. It’s not even essential that it’s operational… just that it answers the question “what the fuck is that thing in your yard”. I like this idea because it’s potentially very adjustable after it goes up. If birds aren’t landing on it, I might be able to take it down and change what the top of it looks like.

Vertical rusty iron sculpture

There are some really good metal artists around, and it might be cool to just tell one of them my goals and have them propose something. The upside here is I’d get a nice, professional piece of art out of it, but the downside is that it’s likely people wouldn’t really know what it was… which isn’t a dealkiller. Also, depending on the design of the sculpture, it may or may not be adjustable after the fact.

The temped-up PVC jobbie

With one trip to Home Depot, I could probably get 50 feet of PVC pipe which I could anchor into the ground and just see what happens for a little while. It’s still a bit of a project as I don’t want the thing falling onto my house, but it’s doable for less than $100. It would no doubt look hideous, but it might be a good proof-of-concept before doing something more permanent and expensive.

Other ideas?

If anyone has any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.

23 comments on “The Eagle Project”. Leave your own?
  1. Sabrina says:

    Hey Mike,

    Guess what? I love your plan. Here are my thoughts:

    I think the structure should be wood – at least at the top. It will help the eagles feel more secure to have organic material to hold on to. It would be rad to install a totem – or other wood pole – in your yard, perhaps with outcroppings of “branches”. I am not a builder so I do not know the realities of accomplishing this (i.e. would the branches be strong enough? How strong do they need to be). What about installing a plain telephone pole in your yard?

    RE: Place to build a nest – absolutely. Maybe you have two totems. One for perching and one for the nest. Do eagles tend to perch where they nest or elsewhere?

    Keep me posted.

    p.s. Who cares what anybody thinks about what’s in your yard?

  2. Bump says:

    Do you ever get lightning storms there?

    I would guess, not being an eagle expert, that the tactile feel of wood might be a requirement.

  3. meks says:

    You better not get it in the neighbors’ views. Magnolian’s will cut a bitch.

  4. Joseph says:

    This looked interesting and might not be too expensive:

    I’ve got a feeling that 50 feet of rebar or pvc is going to be pretty janky, you’d probably need support wires and even then I’d imagine the top would sway around a lot if a bird tried to land.

  5. John B says:

    I know that in some places there are problems with eagles, and other raptors, nesting on top of telephone/power poles. Maybe you could put one of those up, but without the wires.

    I actually think I’ve seen them with some extra crossed members at the top – think of a tic-tac-toe board stuck on top of the pole, horizontally to give some good surface area, as nesting poles, and yes, I have seen nests in them.

    As smart as we internet masses are, this might also be a good time to call up your local zoo or some sort of conservation or wildlife expert. They probably have plans for optimal eagle perching/nesting structures already drawn up.

  6. Steve Barlow says:

    I like the way you think! I’m a certified wildlife biologist and I constantly think and work on wildlife structures- roosts, nest-boxes, bat houses…I have some ideas, I built my first osprey roosting platform when I was 15!

  7. Are there any old trees in the area that you could make more habitable for an eagle? If you could trim most of the branches off the top you may be able to create exactly what you need with less work. I still like the idea of make a nest. Try using a wood utility pole with some kind of a homemade fort around it halfway up. Then you’d get eagles perching on the top and maybe moving in downstairs.

  8. Mike D. says:

    Sabrina and John B.: Problem is, I don’t really want a big telephone pole in my yard. Part of the issue here is that whatever goes up blocks part of the view… so it needs to look good. A totem pole would look at least arguably good :).

    Bump: Nope, not a lot of lightning at all in Seattle. We have eagles landing on freeway street lights here so material might not matter to them.

    meks: Ha!

    Joseph: Thanks for the link! I love that! Something like that but with a pole that is slightly more attractive than a utility pole would be great.

    Steve: Sounds great! Would love to hear them!

    Davis: Yep, there are plenty of trees in my neighborhood that eagles still land on. I just want to see if I can simulate one on my actual property.

  9. Sabrina says:

    I like the dialog. Please keep me posted.

  10. Chris says:

    hi Mike, You could incorporate remote camera facilities into the pole with the aim of getting some fabulous close up shots. Would be great with the natural background across the water and distant hills. Or what about a hide on a pole to allow you to film / photograph the birds up close? You could put roadkill out for them to fed on.

  11. Chris says:

    You could have live webcam to watch the birds and website?

  12. Joseph says:

    You could use a pole designed for wind turbines:

    Pretty cheap but needs guy wires and is kinda ugly.

    A tapered monopole would be better, then get an metal fabricator to to make and attach branches. The poles alone run around $4-5k though.

  13. John B says:

    I took a look at Joseph’s first link yesterday and from a distance those things look great, although the article says they’re basically telephone poles with branches tied to the top.

    If you don’t want a telephone pole in your face, (which I totally understand), your next best bet might be some sort of high-tech pole, otherwise I’m guessing that you’ll end up with guy wires all over the place.

    I like the totem pole idea, or maybe you could arrange another dead tree. How big of a tree could you buy, and have planted, then kill after a year or two?

  14. Mike D. says:

    Chris: Yep, definitely need camera capabilities.

    John B: Yeah, the utility poles aren’t very attractive and they are going to be pretty heavy too.

    One thing I recently found is these fiberglass flagpoles. I can get one that is 40 feet tall and it’s only 120 pounds. Pretty light. Also withstands 100mph winds with allegedly no sway. I’m wondering if I could dress it up somehow.

  15. John B says:

    I hadn’t even thought of a flagpole. Those fiberglass ones look good, or you could just go with metal. I guess it depends on how tall you want it to be.

    I say you get one of those, paint it brown, and tie some branches to the top like in that link of Joseph’s above.

    FWIW When I was younger I stuck a flagpole into the fencepole of a chain-link fence, so if you have one of those around somewhere, (on your cliff? I doubt it but you never know), you could do that and you might be able to avoid pouring a concrete foundation for it.

  16. Chris says:

    A ship’s look out mast if you have ahead for heights!

  17. Mike says:

    Mike – I’m the one who initially sent you the Fish and Wildlife article about building nests. Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, we’ve seen the bald eagle rebound to numbers no one ever expected. I’ll try to contact one of my Fish and Wildlife colleagues who manages a couple of the National Wildlife Refuges to see what advice they have. These nests can get massive – up to 10 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Also, the nests can weigh as much as 2 tons after a couple of years of use, so be thinking about a material that will support that amount of weight.

    I agree with one of the comments above – if you’re successful in getting an eagle to nest, a webcam would be very fun. Here’s an example of one at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (

  18. Chris says:

    I was just thinking of a camera next to a perch with the fabulous natural background to get high quality close up shots of the Eagles. Have a look at this site showing Kingfisher shots:

  19. Mike says:

    Had a chance to speak with my colleague over here on the east coast about this idea. There are several life history behaviors going against you here: 1) bald eagles generally use the same nest throughout their lifespan – unless they’ve been displaced – and in that case they rebuild the nest at or near the site 2) they’re very sensitive to human disturbance and therefore nest away from human activity 3) they generally nest in a natural setting (tree) and not on platforms or similar arrangements. She said it was very unlikely that a nesting pair would choose a manmade platform. That said, she suggested contacting someone from the Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get more info.

    She also suggested looking into building an osprey platform. Osprey will build nests on nearly any platform or wherever they can find a suitable place. I’ve seen them build nests on highway signs here in the Chesapeake region. And to be honest, despite the enticement of having a bald eagle nest, ospreys are actually pretty damn cool birds – much better hunters. Here’s a link to a site with plans:

    Feel free to contact me if you need more info.

  20. Mike D. says:

    Joseph: That is awesome.

    Mike: I’m actually not trying to build a nest, or even a place for them to nest. Just a perch. From what I’ve read, the chances of an eagle nesting in a human-built nest are in the neighborhood of 20%… and besides, the nests can get really heavy. I’m just looking to build a place for them to chill for a few minutes between long flights or meals.

  21. Julie says:

    I suggest asking one of the raptor keepers at the zoo. they just updated the eagle enclosure and I am pretty sure that the “tree” their nest is in isn’t actually real wood but the birds perch there.

  22. Sarah says:

    There are some crazy gaudy fake indoor trees, but also some great outdoor ones as well. On this particular page there is even one that looks like a dead tree without branches.

    Better than the cell phone concealment tree towers though.

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