DENVER, Colorado — Coloradans are passionate about their wildlife.
When it comes to bald eagles, it’s not uncommon for observers to become attached to the birds occupying nests near the homes and businesses of humans.
Anne Price, curator of raptors at the Raptor Education Foundation in Brighton, said bald eagles are very tolerant of people.
So, it’s no surprise that photographers and residents of an area just outside of the Denver metro area have grown to love a pair of mating eagles there.
9NEWS has chosen to not disclose the nest's location for its protection.
A Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson said the pair had been living in the nest for five to eight years.
Two days after a bomb cyclone hit Colorado, someone called CPW to report that the male bald eagle was on the ground while his mate sat alone in the nest.
CPW said it picked up the male to bring him to Birds of Prey, but he died upon arriving at the facility.
His passing leaves his female mate alone to protect their two eggs in the nest.
We spoke with three stakeholders about what the male’s passing means for the female and the eggs:
- Jason Clay, public information officer for CPW.
- Price, the curator of raptors at the Raptor Education Foundation.
- Winston Herbert, a photographer who's been photographing the eagles since 2017.
(Editor's note: The responses have been edited for context and clarity.)
9NEWS: Was the male injured in the storm or did something else cause his passing?
Price: The only way to know for certain is through a necropsy. Many of the raptors at their location chose to stay out during the storm rather than seek protection in the shelter provided. Birds that chose to stay out in the elements became waterlogged during the morning rain.
Clay: The health lab at CPW will not conduct a necropsy. The eagle’s carcass will instead be sent to the National Eagle Repository at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
Herbert: Herbert said he believes Wednesday’s storm injured the male. When he came out to check on the nest Friday morning, he only saw the female in the nest. Herbert said he saw something in the snow at the base of the tree, but couldn’t tell what it was with his naked eye. With his zoom lens, Herbert identified “the shape of a bird.”
What about his passing leaves the female and the eggs vulnerable?
Price: Because the bald eagles' young are altricial, parents “don’t leave them unattended until they’re generally big enough to not be taken by ravens and until they can maintain their own body heat. That’s 3-4 weeks minimum.” Without her partner, the female can’t leave the nest to scavenge for food.
Clay: "The mother’s instinct will be to incubate and get the eggs to hatch. She would go outside her nest to look for food to forage on…but her focus would be on hatching her eggs.”
Herbert: He said he witnessed crows “harassing” the female Friday morning. He said he and the other photographers invested in the nest wish they “could feed them.”
What’s the likelihood of the eggs surviving with only one parent watching over them?
Price: It's “highly unlikely” the eggs will hatch and survive to adulthood. “Even if the eggs do hatch, we’d have to have a floater male show up within days, which is highly unlikely." If a male does show up, he would be able to provide food for the female while she incubates the eggs and protects the hatchlings.
Will Colorado Parks & Wildlife intervene to save the eggs?
Clay: CPW will not intervene. Clay said the more likely scenario in which the agency would intervene is if a hatchling were to fall from the nest.
How does the bald eagle’s Endangered Species status factor into that decision?
Price: Bald eagles are thriving in Colorado thanks to the Endangered Species Act. The three pillars of the act for bald eagles are education, awareness and clean water. There were only nine active nests in Colorado in 1980. Today, there are over 200. A loss of two eggs is no longer a huge deal.
Since bald eagle’s mate for life, will the female take another mate?
Price: It's likely the female will have a mate by next season. “A big female like that, on the nest, without a mate sitting on the tree…if there is a floater around, that would attract attention." A male will bring the female sticks to try to impress her and “because she does the majority of the incubation, but not all, she has greater say in deciding where and how the nest operates.”
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