Friday, March 5, 2010

The February Eagle Report

Friday March 5 2010

The golden eagle is not on the federal list of endangered species, but some states list it as endangered, some list it as a candidate, and some state and federal agencies are greatly concerned about golden eagle populations. Here in the Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area, the golden eagle population has declined by 30% since 1970.

Retired bird biologist (and endurance rider) Karen S helps monitor golden eagle nests in this area, and I've been out with her to a couple of nests the last couple of years, by vehicle, on foot, and on horseback.

We drove out Tuesday to check on a couple of nests.

First, the new golden eagles on Bates Creek. They are not nesting yet, though I see them almost every day that I drive down the road past the nest. At least one of them likes to sit on his pointed cone on the distant rim, from where he has his eagle eye view of the nest. Sometimes I'll see them both soaring over the creek, and occasionally one will be sitting in a tree near the cottonwood tree with the big nest in it. One day last week I saw one of them standing on the nest, and a neighbor saw one of them fly to the nest with sticks. They are still giving indications that they will use that nest, but no egg-laying or sitting on the nest so far.

I worry about the proximity of the nest to the road, and the traffic on the road. Mind you, it's a dirt road, and the traffic might be 1 car twice a day, or at the most 4 cars twice a day, but that still might be too much for them. Anytime I slow down when one or both are in or near the nest tree, they fly away. Perhaps they are waiting for the leaves to come out on the cottonwood tree to shield them, in which case humans won't even know they are there, and if we do know, we won't be able to see them.

Or maybe they won't lay eggs at all. So far, all we really know is that they are still interested in that particular tree nest on the creek. We'll know soon one way or the other.

Second, the Browns Creek canyon site I discovered on my hike. Karen hadn't known about it, and thought perhaps it was a previously unrecorded site. Moreover, when we went there, Karen spotted the eagle on one of the nests that I'd only glanced at on my first visit, because I'd been concentrating on the largest of the 6 nests on that cliff, the one that looked like it was going to be used.

In fact the eagle I'd seen fly off on that first day had probably been the mate perching nearby, and the other eagle had likely been on the nest and I'd just not seen her (or him - both male and female eagles will incubate the eggs). Today she seemed not the least concerned with our presence, hardly deigning to watch us. She'd picked ultimately the best positioned nest; this one got morning sun, but not the blazing afternoon sun. Heat is a main killer of young eagles in cliff nests; that won't happen here with this nest. It's a fair sized nest, built up at least 3 feet over the years, partially tucked in a crevice, and you can see the fresh (brown) sticks and grasses on it.

Third, Castle Butte.
Karen was unable to check this site last year, but the previous year, a pair had laid eggs and incubated them, but ultimately failed. The three nests on this cliff face are directly in the sun all day - a tough obstacle in a hot summer. Karen put her scope on the most likely nest - one which had whitewash, and fresh 'greens' for 'decoration' (or in this case 'browns' - since there isn't much green in the desert right now). It's a sizable nest too, about 3-4' tall.
We soon spotted one eagle soaring over the butte... and after a while saw the second one soaring with it. Likely the nest was unoccupied so far. There's still time for them to lay eggs.

It wasn't a bad golden eagle day: 5 golden eagles, 3 territories, 10 (or so) nests. But only one pair nesting... so far.

(And there are more territories to check soon.)


  1. Wonderful - thank you for sharing!

  2. We have a pair of golden eagles, but I have no clue if/where they nest. Must be miles from where I ride, maybe there's a sheer enough cliff somewhere? Very cool to see their nests!

  3. Merri, thank you very much for sharing your experiences and the wildlife with us. I bought a horse from Carol and was fascinated with the country there. Seeing all your photos makes me wish I was there to see the eagles. My goal is to come and ride Owyhee Canyonlands in September and to meet you.

  4. I love eagles, thanks for a a look into what you've been doing. I find it fascinating. Wish I could live where you are and do this sort of thing. Thanks again for the great pictures and info.

  5. A really good day eaglewise. The big birds of prey are truly amazing creatures. We don't seem to have many eagle around NJ, although there are reports of some bald eagles near where I live. I would love to see one here. We do have numerous large hawks, though.

    Seeing the golden eagle nests, I have a feeling the habitat here is not as appealing since we don't--at least in my area of Central Jersey--have cliffs and mountains.

    I'm glad you are going out to monitor the birds, though. The more we know about them the better. That way we can help protect their habitat.

  6. Merri, ¿Las aguilas doradas de la que hablas, son nuestras aguilas reales?. En España, estan super protegidas, hay pocas aunque con la protección ya ha aumentado la población. Que alegria da ver en el campo el vuelo de las rapaces, un dia de paseo con mi compadre por las cañadas de Puerto Real en Cadiz, vimos como un aguila bajaba en picado para coger a su presa, un espectáculo impresionante. Merri te vas a reciclar en Biologa?. Leistes la confirmacion de las fechas del Al-Andalus?. Recuerdos desde España de Gabriel.

  7. Merri, fantastic pictures! I'm hoping the eagles will be around for a long time to come. I've gone to see them once at Kaw Lake in Oklahoma, and they were inspiring to watch. Thanks.