Bald eagles take up residence here

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  • Photo by Don Bartling This bald eagle is gathering branches for the pair’s nest. Notice the branch in the eagle’s talons as he prepares to land in the newly constructed nest.

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    Photo by DON BARTLING The female generally places the sticks in nest building while both carry the branches to the site. The nest building activity is part of their pair bonding. Notice the large stick in the female’s beak while the male looks on.

  • Photo by Don Bartling This bald eagle is gathering branches for the pair’s nest. Notice the branch in the eagle’s talons as he prepares to land in the newly constructed nest.

  • 1

    Photo by DON BARTLING The female generally places the sticks in nest building while both carry the branches to the site. The nest building activity is part of their pair bonding. Notice the large stick in the female’s beak while the male looks on.

About three weeks ago I saw a pair of bald eagles begin to build their nest. Situated in a fork of a tree about 70 feet above the water, the building of the nest was an incredible sight.

The male and female eagles were building their nest together. Both eagles were carrying sticks in their talons to add to the nest structure and arrange them within the nest, and also had grass-like material to form a soft cup in the center of the nest where the eggs will rest.

The bald eagles’ nest is called an aerie. The nest building activity is part of their pair bonding. The average bald eagle nest is 4 to 5 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet deep. Mature nests can weigh up to 1,000 pounds so it is built in the top of a sturdy tree.

Designated the national bird in 1782, bald eagles are majestic, breathtaking, inspiring, and just plain awesome. Those may be just a few of the phrases used to describe what it feels like to watch a bald eagle silently soar overhead or dip into the water to grab a fish. Observing these amazing birds in the wild is an unreal, but frequent occurrence in Boundary County during the winter.

North Idaho is a hot spot for seeing bald eagles in the winter. In the area around Bonners Ferry, eagle watchers are sure to have excellent viewing opportunities. Favorite locations to see nesting pairs include the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, Perkins Lake, along the banks of the Kootenai River and McArthur Lake Wildlife Management Area.

Nest sites usually include at least one perch with a clear view of the water, where they forage. A typical nesting landscape would be forested and include rivers or lakes that offer areas of shallow water. These landscapes provide for basic needs: water to drink, fish to eat, forest trees for shelter and a place to raise young, and perches for hunting and resting.

First year nests are usually smaller, and the nest size will increase each year as eagles re-use the nest and add sticks to it. Some pairs need to rebuild their nest almost from scratch if winds and bad weather have damaged it. This nesting activity starts one to three months before the female lays eggs.

Bald eagles are very territorial birds, and most breeding pairs return to the same nest site year after year. They may use the same nest annually for as many as 35 years, or they may build additional nests in their nesting territory, and alternate the use of them from year to year.

It was a memorable experience to watch the pair of majestic birds build their nest. They’re huge and have a slow flap, which seems effortless. The wingspan triggers a thought in your mind that you’re looking at something spectacular.

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