The Return of the Bald Eagles

December 5, 9 am.

Today it looks like it will rain before too long. I am wearing a rain jacket and pants plus have an umbrella for taking photos.  As I get out of the car, I see a pair of magnificent Bald Eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, sitting in the trees on the south end of the Willits Waste Water Treatment Plant. I am heading north on Outlet Creek. These large birds seem to be just casually looking around, regal in their posture and attitudes. This emblem bird of the United States even though is majestic in appearance is not always so majestic in its habits! I have seen them eating drowned gophers in an inundated pasture, carrion on the side of the road, and besides dead salmon in our creeks, I have seen them eating the afterbirths of the cows. They seem to be flexible or opportunistic in their feeding habits because I have also seen them fly casually over a flock of Green Winged Teal and without much effort put down their very large talons and pick up one, then carry it away to eat. No wonder they can cause a commotion amongst waterfowl when they fly over, with every duck taking to the air in unison whilst quacking, squealing, calling, or honking. Several times I watched them fight over a duck with another Bald or with a Golden Eagle, refusing to let go as the duck was torn in half.

Bald Eagles can mate for life and I wonder if this pair is a mated pair. Then they fly over me, screaming at each other and this makes me think that they are a mated pair!  

Here is some conservation information about these eagles from the Cornell bird site:

Once abundant in North America, the species became rare in the mid-to-late 1900s—the victim of trapping, shooting, and poisoning as well as pesticide-caused reproductive failures. In 1978 the bird was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Since 1980, gentler treatment by humans along with the banning of DDT (the bird’s main pesticide threat) have led to a dramatic resurgence. By the late 1990s, breeding populations of Bald Eagles could be found throughout most of North America. In June 2007, the bird’s recovery prompted its removal from the Endangered Species list. Continuing threats to Bald Eagle populations include lead poisoning from ammunition in hunter-shot prey, collisions with motor vehicles and stationary structures, and development-related destruction of shoreline nesting, perching, roosting and foraging habitats. They are still vulnerable to environmental pollution, as evidenced by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. An estimated 247 Bald Eagles died from oil exposure. Population levels in the Sound decreased by almost four percent the following year. The local population returned to pre-spill levels by 1995.

It is always uplifting to me to read about a success story in nature and when I reflect on my own experience with Bald Eagles, I realize that in the recent years,I have seen more of them in the Little Lake Valley. They seem to stay longer also. We are so lucky to have these extraordinary birds right in our back yard.