The Seventeenth Annual Eagle Day Festival begins at
5:00 PM on Friday, February 6 and continues through 2 PM on
Sunday, February 8, at the Lake Pueblo State Park Headquarters.
Here's where you can learn the very latest
information about this unique festival from the Colorado
Parks and Wildlife.
Have you seen them? The bald eagles are back! This magnificent
bird of prey, with its distinctive white head and tail feathers,
was named our national bird in 1782. It won out over Benjamin
Franklin’s choice of the Wild Turkey by only one vote! Bald
Eagles live exclusively on the North American continent and
historically nested in 45 of the lower 48 states.
The scientific name for the bald eagle is Haliaeetus
leucocephalus, which translates to “sea eagle with a white
head.” Commonly known as a fish eater, it is almost always found
along streams, rivers and lakes. These birds can lift up to four
pounds with their talons, which lock in place around prey and
then have to be pushed onto a hard surface to release. With
eyesight four times better than humans, they spy their prey and
dive from great distances into the water to reach their catch.
Surprisingly, a large part of the bald eagle’s diet is made up
of carrion, or already dead meat and fish. With a wingspan from
72 to 90 inches and weighing between 10 and 14 pounds (females
are larger), these birds often use their formidable size to
coerce food from other animals.
A Front Range biologist once told me the story of seeing a
red-tailed hawk catch and kill a prairie dog. A bald eagle
arrived on the scene, and the red-tail dropped his catch and
retreated, as if to say, “Hey, it’s yours buddy. I don’t want
any trouble here.”
Only a few bald eagles nest in Colorado, the most famous nest
likely being at the Excel Energy Fort St. Vrain power station in
Platteville. Their reproductive success or failure is captured
yearly with a live “eagle cam.” (Visit
http://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/birdcam.asp to view the eagles
February thorugh May.) However, the majority of Colorado’s balds
arrive in our area from their northern summer nesting sites in
late October and stay through March. The best places to see
eagles in the winter are near tree lined fish filled rivers and
lakes, particularly in areas that stay ice free for a good part
of the winter.
Watch for eagles carrying branches and starting false nests in
the early spring. While most are unlikely to actually nest in
Colorado, this display is thought to be a form of pair bonding
for the breading season to come. Birds younger than four years
old won’t have the distinctive white heads and tails, which
signifies breeding age. Bald eagles mate “till death do us
part,” and nesting sites, usually tall trees with very strong
branches, get used year after year. Over time, the birds amass a
huge platform of sticks that can weigh two tons.
In 1967, the bald eagle was listed as federally endangered in
most states. Populations had declined from historic levels of
500,000 from habitat loss, hunting and the use of the pesticide
DDT. Laws were passed to protect eagle habitat and DDT was
banned from use in the United States in 1972. (It is still
manufactured by U.S.-owned companies and sold outside the U.S.)
The bald eagle was downlisted from endangered to threatened in
1995, and removed from the threatened and endangered list
entirely on June 28th, 2007. According to the US Fish and
Wildlife Service, there are an estimated 9,789 breeding pairs in
the lower 48 states today, up from an all time low of 417 pairs
in 1963. Alaska’s bald eagles never warrented Endangered Species
Act protection. Their population is estimated to be between
50,000 and 70,000 birds.
While no longer listed, the bald eagle is still protected by
the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle
Protection Act. Possession of an eagle feather or other body
part is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $15,000 and/or
imprisonment. Possession with intention to sell has much more
severe penalties. Federally recognized American Indians are able
to possess these emblems, which are traditional in their
cultures, but a permit is required. For ideas on where to see
bald eagles this winter, contact your regional CDOW Watchable
Wildlife coordinator. Look for a new CDOW Bald Eagle Nest Cam
premiering in the spring of 2008.
Adapted from an article originally written by Jennifer Kleffner
while she was working for Durango Nature Studies and appeared in
the Durango Herald in January 2003.