Eagle Eye: Webcam to track eagles' movements

Miles City Firefighter Ryan Smith and FWP’s Miles Muscha install a live-feed camera high up on a cottonwood tree, after climbing 100 feet up the fire department’s ladder truck. The camera is pointed at the large eagles nest at the west end of Main Street. In a couple weeks, people will be able to get a close-up look online at the eagles as they settle into the nest once again and begin raising more eaglets. (Star photo by Elaine Forman)


“The camera is up, the connection is not,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Cathy Stewart of the new webcam to be used for an up-close look at the eagles nest on Main Street.

The live feed camera was installed Thursday afternoon. It was the second attempt, as a few days earlier Kiwi Pete Tree Service donated the use of his bucket truck, but the bucket didn’t reach high enough at 70 feet.

On Thursday, Miles City Fire and Rescue’s ladder truck was used and extended 100 feet for the project. 

Fire Chief Dale Berg said using the ladder truck is perfect training for the department because several of the new people haven’t been able to train on it yet, plus it’s a good community service project.

Although the planning for the webcam has been going on for about seven months, it came to crunch time last week because the eagles were expected to return to the nest at the end of February.

Everything wasn’t quite ready to go, but the camera needed to be put up before the eagles arrived or the project would have to wait for next year, so the birds would not be disturbed.

They got the camera in place in time “by the hair on our chinny, chin, chin,” said Stewart.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Miles Muscha installed the camera Thursday afternoon, and someone reported seeing the eagles in the area Friday morning. 

She said the webcam is expected to be operational in early March.

When it is, it will be announced in the Miles City Star.


The eagles nest

The eagle’s nest was built about seven years ago. 

Stewart said the nest is one of the more prolific eagles nests around.

Usually two eaglets are hatched in a nest and one reaches the fledge stage, but at this nest, on more than one occasion, three eaglets were hatched and all three reached the fledge stage, “which is extraordinary.”

Because the nest is located on Main Street, by the ROCKS building, watching the eagles is popular among local residents. 

Denise Harvey often walked under the nest and suggested the webcam. She and her husband, Jay, were the original contacts for the project.


The project

Stewart said since the camera was going to be using electricity and Internet connection from the after-school program ROCKS, the project is being done through that program.

Stewart started writing grants, and the Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society donated a $1,000 grant for the $1,600 camera. 

Ruben Oberlander began collecting donations and raised enough for the camera and some costs associated with the installation.

Also involved in the program are:


See “Eagles,” page 5

— Dean Hanvold of Technology Plus donated his labor.

— Mid-Rivers Communications upgraded ROCKS’ Internet connection. 

— Montana Department of Transportation closed a portion of Main Street for the installation.

— Fish, Wildlife and Parks has managed the program, donated staff time and small one-time purchases.

— The City of Miles City donated the use of a ladder truck and permission to install the camera on city property.

— Firefighters Erik Hartse and Ryan Smith donated their time on the ladder.

— Monetary donations were from Kiwanis ($100), Washington Middle School’s Builders Club ($200), Holy Rosary Healthcare Foundation ($300), Dr. Jeff Williams ($200) and Jay and Denise Harvey ($80).

“It’s been very much a community project, which was the purpose from the beginning,” Stewart said.


Learning opportunity

Not only will the camera produce fascinating images, but it also produces a lot of educational opportunities.

One of the problems the eagles have encountered in the past is when the young fledglings fly out of the nest and begin to learn to fly, they bounce around, get tired and pant a lot. Many people thought they were abandoned and began calling the FWP. One concerned person threw a blanket over an eagle and brought it into the office. 

Stewart is hoping that since so many people will be watching the webcam, it will provide an opportunity to let people know that the birds are all right.

Since the camera will be live, there are some images that might be a little difficult for some viewers.

Stewart’s been asked what happens when the eagles are eating a cat or squirrel. She answers, “then we’re going to talk about it.”

Parents of small children might want to check the footage before inviting their kids to watch.

Stewart knows the images will be seen around the world. 

In an osprey nest near Missoula, a young bird got caught up in some fishing line when its parent was feeding it a fish that still had a hook in it. A viewer in Wales called the office to let them know about the problem.

Locally, Stewart expects schools will study them in science classes, ROCKS will have lessons on them and the local FWP office will use it for education and information.

There are many benefits that we cannot predict, she said, believing that the birds will become teachers.

“I’m sure they are going to teach us a lot,” Stewart said of the eagles. “It’s going to be cool.”

Anyone interested in making donations for the monthly Internet service and future maintenance can make a check out to R.O.C.K.S. and bring it by the local Fish, Wildlife and Parks office or mail it to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, P.O. Box 1630, Miles City, MT 59301 and put it attention to Cathy Stewart.