Keep your eye on the eagles of Eagle County
Despite what the location names would suggest, eagles aren't all that easy to spot in Eagle County
EAGLE COUNTY — Spotting a bald eagle — in flight or simply hanging out in a tree — is something to give pause.
There is no mistaking the majestic birds with their snow-white heads and tail feathers, and right now is a prime local viewing opportunity.
There is an irony in the fact that the name “eagle” denotes the river, county and county seat of the community, but sightings of the actual birds aren’t everyday occurrences. That’s not to say there are no eagles in Eagle County — golden eagles can be seen locally year around and bald eagles are generally migratory.
“We are starting to get a few nesting bald eagle pairs along the Eagle River,” said Craig Wescoatt, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Generally we are on the southern periphery of the bald eagle migratory range.”
Wescoatt said that bald eagles find their way to Eagle County around early December and generally leave the area by early April to return to Alaska, Montana and other northern climes. However, there are now at least three nesting pairs along the Eagle River, and Wescoatt said humans need to respect the bird’s residency.
“We ask people not to cause too much disturbance around the nest areas,” Wescoatt said. “We have had issues with nest abandonment and when they are having babies it’s the last time they need disturbance around their nests”
Bald eagles feed on both carrion and fish, so their nests are generally found close to water. Young bald eagles are often mistaken as golden eagles because their characteristic coloring doesn’t appear until they are approximately five years old. Similarly, Wescoatt said that osprey hawks are often mistaken as baby bald eagles because these smaller birds also feature white heads.
Bald eagles can live as long as 30 years. Eagles mate for life, but if they lose a partner, they will pair up with a new mate. Both male and female bald eagles sport the same unmistakable coloring.
A male bald eagle will stand as high as 40 inches and females are a bit larger than males. Fledging eagles, because they have been so well fed in the nest, will often outweigh their parents, Wescoatt noted.
While bald eagles are generally Eagle County visitors, golden eagles are year-round valley residents.
Golden eagles are the most prevalent type of eagle in the United States. They are a bit taller than bald eagles and one of their most striking characteristics is they have feathers that continue down their legs right to their talons. Wescoatt said that golden eagles nest in cliff areas, unlike bald eagles who nest in trees.
“Golden Eagles prey on small mammals. They are actually more hunters than scavengers,” said Wescoatt. In his experience, however, Golden Eagle’s don’t sweep down to grab a family pet.
“In 36 years here, I have never responded to a case of an eagle picking up a cat or a dog,” Wescoatt said.
He has, however, responded to several calls from people concerned about an eagle’s behavior
“Usually, the calls are about how an eagle can’t fly and we go out and the bird isn’t hurt, it had just gorged itself so much that it can’t fly, or doesn’t want to fly, for a while,” he said.