One of the more asked about species of birds at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center is the Bald Eagle. Especially this time of year, Bald Eagles can be a regular sight at Cheyenne Bottoms. During the recent Cheyenne Bottoms Christmas Bird Count, participants recorded 57 Bald Eagles, which was an all-time high count for Bald Eagles for the count.
Whether it is seeing the two-and-a-half to three foot tall bird standing out on the frozen pools of Cheyenne Bottoms, or if you see them soaring effortlessly through the air with their six foot wingspan, there is something majestic about experiencing a Bald Eagle.
Thankfully, being able to see one or more Bald Eagles these days is much easier than it was even 10 or 15 years ago. Due to conservation efforts and specifically the chemical DDT being banned in 1972, Bald Eagle populations have gone from a low of around 400 breeding pairs in the 1950’s to being removed from the Endangered and Threatened List in 2007. Today, it is estimated that almost half of the states in the U.S. have at least 100 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles.
In Kansas, Bald Eagles can be seen throughout the state during about any time of the year. However, the winter months near larger bodies of water and rivers are the best time to see Bald Eagles. Eagles will follow the migrations of waterfowl during the winter months, and can be seen most frequently where there are large congregations of waterfowl. The large congregations of waterfowl present many opportunities for easy meals with numerous injured and sick ducks and geese that prove to be easy meals.
During the summer months, it is not as easy to find Bald Eagles in Kansas, as most are migratory, and head to northern latitudes for the breeding season. However, the number of Bald Eagle nests in Kansas has steadily increased to more than 30 in the last couple years. Most of these nests are in eastern Kansas especially along the Kansas River. But, several pairs of eagles have strayed further west to nest.
Since 2009, there has been a pair of Bald Eagles that have nested at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. This pair of eagles has had an eventful several years of nesting attempts, including surviving a tornado in 2012, relocating the nest to a different area of the refuge in 2013, and having the nest blown out of the tree in 2014. Surprisingly, the pair has rebuilt the nest and has been seen this winter adding new material to the nest. It is expected they will probably lay eggs and give it a go once again this year. For more information about the Quivira Bald Eagle nest, go to the Quivira website at www.fws.gov/refuge/Quivira/.
Another fun thing to do this time of year is to begin watching the numerous Eagle Cams that can be found on the web. A simple search for Eagle Cams will result in numerous locations that have set up web cameras on their local Eagle nests. One popular Eagle Cam website is the Decorah, Iowa camera. This camera is very clear for viewing eagle activity, and it even broadcasts sound and night-time viewing. In fact, when I checked the camera a couple nights ago, there were actually a pair of Great-horned Owls perched on the nest, and you could hear them hooting up a storm. For the Iowa pair of eagles, eggs are usually laid in mid February.
As we get into the middle of the winter, take a chance over the next month or two to check out Eagles either in person at Cheyenne Bottoms or Quivira NWR, or virtually on the web. As we begin to see eagles nesting, we know that spring is just around the corner. It will get your hopes up for warmer temperatures, and it just might bring you closer to nature!