The Sixteenth Annual Eagle Day Festival begins at 6:30 PM on Friday, January 31, 2014 and continues through 2 PM on Sunday, February 2, 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.

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See Live Eagles!