One employee at OPPD’s North Omaha Station has decided to make his workplace a home for his family.
Last fall, the employee, a peregrine falcon, took up residence in a falcon box installed high on one of the power plant’s stacks. Such boxes are frequently installed at plants to attract the raptors in hopes that they will build a nest. In recent weeks, workers noticed a second adult falcon and baby chicks. The chicks appear to be only a few weeks old, since they still have a downy covering. Peregrine falcon chicks generally stay in the nest for six weeks until they are ready to fly.
According to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the OPPD site is only the third known site for peregrines in the state.
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The boxes – and the falcons – serve as a deterrent to pigeons and other birds that cause cleanliness issues at the plant. Falcons are notorious hunters who feed on these birds.
Installing the box was the idea of Jon Hansen, vice president of energy production and marketing, when he was the manager at North Omaha.
Ten years later, an entire falcon family has moved in.
“Good things come to those who wait,” Hansen said. “It’s really cool that they’re there. It’s a good example of an ‘If you build it, they will come’ situation.”
In 2003, Hansen did some online research and talked to people at the Minnesota plant. He then worked with OPPD maintenance to install the two North Omaha falcon boxes.
Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one was placed on the corner of the turbine building and a second on the top of a stack, where the falcon family has established residence. Those locations had the best potential to attract the falcons because they overlooked the Missouri River, the raptor’s habitat.
The nesting boxes are about two feet deep, three feet wide and made of cedar siding. About 4 to 6 inches of pea gravel is placed inside for nesting material. Between 15 and 20 small holes are often drilled in the bottom for drainage. A long arm that extends from the side provides a perch for the falcons.
David Wetrosky, manager of the North Omaha Station, said employees began to see a bird using the box in summer, 2014. A feather found at the base of the stack, and verified by the USDA, confirmed the bird was a peregrine.
Now, the falcon is a common sight for workers at the plant, said Roger Perrigo, senior electrician.
“It’s just habit to walk out and look up to see if it’s out there.”
Employees speculated the falcon may be one of the offspring born in the falcon box on the Woodmen Tower in downtown Omaha.
Because the box is so high on the stack, employees rarely get close enough to investigate, Wetrosky said. The falcon is frequently seen flying out early in the morning as activity ramps up at the plant; it returns around dusk.