Unlike 40 years ago, it’s not that uncommon these days to see bald eagles soaring through the Southwest sky. Or perched high in a huge tree-top nest. With eaglets.
Look, enjoy, but don’t get too close.
“They’re great to see. They’re incredible birds,” state Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said. “But please give them some room. If they start getting fidgety as you approach them, you’re getting too close.”
A nest with three eaglets was seen this week south of town not far from the Animas River.
Parks and Wildlife knows of at least five to seven active nests in La Plata County, and Montezuma County probably has more than that, said Jon Holst, regional energy liaison for Parks and Wildlife.
He said the state agency has begun a study of migratory patterns of bald eagles in the area, with GPS transmitters on two eagles. The common thinking is that eagles migrate, but that assumption is being challenged. Of the two birds, one, nesting near a local reservoir, stayed in the area year-round and the other, just north of Durango, stayed close other than a two-week jaunt to Idaho; it came right back.
“It’s been fascinating, actually,” Holst said.
The hope is to place a few more GPS devices on eagles in the near future, he said. The study will help Parks and Wildlife manage bald eagles in relation to local development, including oil and gas.
A female typically lays one to three eggs, according to the Parks and Wildlife website. Nests can be 7 to 8 feet across. One of the breeding pair will hunt for prairie dogs, other small mammals or fish, while the other stays with the eaglets, Lewandowski said. The youngsters leave the nest after about three months.
The bald eagle, only found in North America, declined precipitously in population in the early to mid-1900s. Lost habitat and use of the insecticide DDT were blamed. By 1963, surveys in the Lower 48 found just 487 breeding pairs.
The bird first was put on the endangered list in 1967. After DDT was banned and eagle nesting habitat protected, it made a huge recovery. In 1995, the bald eagle was downlisted to “threatened,” and Aug. 9, 2007, it was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.
By 2006, the number of breeding pairs surveyed in the U.S. had increased to 9,789. Colorado took it off its threatened and endangered list in 2009.
A 1940 law, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, prohibits hunting, taking or selling bald or golden eagles, alive or dead, unless allowed by a permit.
“People should really take binoculars or a spotting scope, because you really don’t want to get close to them,” Lewandowski said. “It’ll disturb them, and they’ll fly off. Mainly, it puts them under stress.”
He suggested using your vehicle as a “blind” to hide yourself while observing the eagle.