Residents help bald eagle couple nest in Vancouver

Eagles live among cottonwoods in West Point Grey

If you build it, they will come.

That's the hope of a group of volunteers from West Point Grey determined to help a pair of bald eagles they describe as "architecturally challenged."

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The volunteers, spearheaded by West Point Grey resident Corby Stanley, enlisted the help of the park board to create a nesting platform for the pair, dubbed Ethel and Bert. The volunteers, including West Point Grey residents Ron Gruber, Brian Whittingham and Marian Coope, went out on a limb to help after watching the eagle pair's nest disintegrate year after year, leaving their eaglets stranded in trees or in need of rescue from the ground.

Stanley said the birds have been nesting in a grove of cottonwood trees at Jericho Beach instead of in the sturdier Douglas firs nearby. Each year due to a combination of the eaglets' increasing weight, rambunctiousness and the occasional windstorm, the eagles' nest has fallen down around them. That's what happened in March when the nest the eagles began building at the end of 2010 fell apart. One eaglet needed to be rescued and was rehabilitated at the Delta-based Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation Society. "Then it was successfully released back to the family the second week in August," said Stanley.

That wasn't the first time an eaglet needed rescuing, so the concerned volunteers did their research and came up with a plan to install a sturdy artificial nest base designed to hold the weight of a family of eagles.

Retired park board wildlife manager Mike Mackintosh also volunteered and took on the job of getting permission from the provincial Ministry of the Environment, as well as approaching the park board for help. He said park board arborist Amit Ghanda was instrumental in coordinating the September installation, while local engineer David Copeland designed the platform.

Consulting on the project is noted eagle expert Dave Hancock, famous for using web cameras to capture adult birds and their hatchlings in their nests.

The four-foot-by-four-foot platform has a base made from aluminum mesh to allow drainage and is layered with cedar, alder and cottonwood branches lined with moss to create a bowl shape.

"I really wanted to help these community members who have been so awesome and persistent," said Mackintosh, who still works on wildlife issues for the park board on a contract basis. "And it didn't take much to convince the park board this was a good idea."

With the use of a crane, the platform was erected 125 feet up one of the cottonwood trees two months ago when the eagles migrate to hunt for salmon. The platform caught the eagles' attention when they returned in October, Stanley said. "The female kept her eye on it for about a month before she started flying down to check it out. Now the pair has been in there moving branches around."

Mackintosh said only time will tell if the eagles use the nest to lay their eggs. But he noted it's a good sign the eagles were on the platform when the Courier arrived to take pictures.

"It's not proven yet, but it's worth a shot," said Mackintosh. Twitter: @sthomas10

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