To tell the truth, one of the most overpopulated species of wildlife in this day and time is the eagle. No so much yet that they are a problem, but when you consider today’s numbers of bald eagles to what we had 50 years ago, it is unbelievable.
The eagle is about as much a scavenger as the buzzard, and they aren’t so much travelers passing through today. They are here in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas as residents, and the number of Eagle nests found in our region in the spring probably is greater now than it has ever been mainly because traditionally the eagle was a bird of the north and west and where we ain’t neither.
I always laugh about what they refer to as “eagle days” when city folks go out with binoculars to view some eagles a few hundred yards away in a group at some pre-designated site. I love being outdoors in late winter with my camera and I have so many eagle photos I don’t waste much time on them any more. Unless it is something really unusual, like seeing a dead deer as I float the river, with five or six eagles sitting on and around the carcass.
Eagles can carry away a newborn calf, and they do that on rare occasions. Ranchers hate them for having that ability, but even they know that it seldom happens.
But what wasn’t seen much, decades ago, was an eagle or two eating a calf that had died or that had been born dead. Again they are carrion eaters and not prone to try to kill their prey.
Eagles prefer, if they can, to eat fish. Right now on many Midwest lakes they are in seventh heaven because of all the dead shad. Eagles eat lots of ducks and coots, but they don’t get many healthy ducks. They do best on those which have been crippled by hunters and can’t easily get away.
Once I was hunting ducks in December when I dropped a mallard out at the edge of my decoys. He fluttered around some, seemed to get his head up and swum away a little.
My Labrador was swimming hard to catch the drake and he was about 10 yards away when a big white-headed eagle swooped down to pluck the duck from the surface. I don’t know who was maddest, me or my retriever.
Yelling at the thieving bird, using my best pool hall language to describe him and his ancestors, I fired off a shot into the air. I think the eagle thought maybe I was shooting at him. At any rate, since eagles do no know the range of a shotgun, or maybe just because he didn’t have a good hold on my duck, he dropped it and flew away. That eagle cost me a shell worth nearly a dollar and made my Lab swim a lot farther than he needed to.
So if you live somewhere where eagles are not often seen, come and go with me on one of our wilderness trips and I will show you some. But I will pass on something I saw a week ago that is quite a surprise. I stopped at a quilting shop about a mile southwest of the Truman Lake Dam, and there about a stone’s throw from the shop was an eagle nest with a big white head sticking up out of it, and the owner of the shop, Patty Wallace, says it has been a pleasure having them there, anxiously awaiting the hatching of eggs likely just recently laid. Mr. Wallace told me that the nest was built a few years ago and each year they add sticks to it. Eagles do that. You never see them use a nest they are satisfied with. They spend late winter bringing new sticks, some of them four or five feet long and two or three inches in diameter, to place in the old nest. I think maybe it is something the female insists on. I never saw a woman who was satisfied with interior decorations. At any rate, she lays the eggs, and does most of the incubation, although the male will spell her for an hour or so at a time while she goes to Eagle-Mart for fish.
I knew where there were nine eagle nests on Truman and it’s tributaries two years ago. One of them is only about two or three miles from my Lightnin’ Ridge home and office, as the crow, er uh, I mean eagle, flies. A really unusual nest was situated in a creek bottom sycamore where I could actually climb to the peak of a nearby ridge and look down on it. At one time there were 10 nests in the area, but a powerful wind destroyed one. That doesn’t often happen. If you will notice, eagles in the Ozarks seem to always build nests in sycamores. In Canada and the western states, big tall pines. But I really believe that the pine-nesting eagles would prefer a sycamore… perfect place to guard eggs and then young.
Eagles in Canada really get tame. When I am there in the summer and fall, I feed them an occasional yellow perch, and I have had them fly down only eight or 10 feet from my boat to take the offering, then set in a tree above me and twitter away, seeming to be begging for another.
When you see an eagle that is all brown, it is a juvenile. It will be two or three years before the white feathers on the head develop. Oddly enough, a six- or eight-month old youngster is larger than its mother. I have photographed so many eagles that I no longer take pictures of them, but you might want to if you go up to that little shop called, Saltbox Primitive Woolens. Mrs. Wallace will show you the nest if need be, right there beside her shop, where that white-headed mother looks down upon you with curiosity. You can take your binoculars and camera and have your own “Eagle Days” observance.
As for the eagles, it is not hard to tell the males from the females. You throw a fish on the ground and if SHE flies down to get it, you know you are watching the mother. If HE flies down to get it…
Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613 or email firstname.lastname@example.org If you want to get our spring magazine, call 417-777-5227.
BEGGING EAGLE – Mother eagle flies over the boat begging for a fish, She takes it to feed her young and then returns for another.
IMMATURE EAGLE – This brown-headed eagle is a young one which won’t start getting the white head until it matures.