Two eaglets hatched at Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Aaron Mize, Wildlife Science technician at Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge, has been keeping a close eye on two new eaglets recently hatched on the refuge. The eaglets have begun to look over the side of the six foot diameter nest located southeast of Tims Point.

Big Lake has been the home for bald eagles for many years.

Mize said records confirm bald eagles have nested at Big Lake consistently since 1993.

"Bald eagles unite for life or until the death of their mate," Mize said. "We don't know if this is the same pair or another. Eagles are known to return to where they are born. We have seen two eaglets in the nest."

Three hatched last year.

Mize said in the spring of 2005 a second eagle nest was started. They are not sure if it was being built by the same pair.

Records and maps confirm that eagles nested at Big Lake as far back as the 1930s in the dry cypress area.

"Eagles typically choose the tallest tree to build a nest," Mize said. "Some locals say bald eagles follow the duck migration. Eagles do eat fish and small mammals. Personally, I've yet to see an eagle get a duck. I have seen a high count of eagles during the same year as a low population of ducks."

Mize pointed out a historical eagle's nest on an old map located approximately one mile from the present nest.

The present nesting area is located in a closed off area so boats cannot get too close and disturb the eagles. With a good scope the eagle nest can be seen well from Tims Point. Mize said he has seen the two eaglets on the side of the nest.

Productivity surveys are now being taken to gather data on Arkansas' nesting bald eagle population and to determine the number and location of active and inactive bald eagle nests in the state. The bald eagle is North America's third largest raptor. Juvenile eagles are completely dark brown and do not fully develop the characteristic white head and tail until about the fifth year. Adults average about three feet from head to tail, weigh approximately 10 to 12 pounds and have a wingspread that can reach seven feet.

The eagle nest is constructed of large sticks and lined with pine needles and grasses. The nests are very large and weigh hundreds of pounds. Many nests are thought to be used by the same pair of eagles year after year. Female eagles lay an average of two eggs; however, the clutch size may vary from one to three eggs. The eggs are incubated about 35 days. The young ledge nine to 13 weeks after hatching and at approximately four months the young eaglets are on their own. Bald eagles do not usually attempt to nest until they reach a minimum of four years of age.

Bald eagles nested regularly in Arkansas until the mid 1950s. In 1982, after more than a 20 year absence, a bald eagle nest on the White River National Wildlife Refuge hatched two chicks and fledged one young eagle, according to refuge personnel. By 1985, there were seven bald eagle nests in Arkansas, but only one produced young. Fourteen years later, in 1999, 21 of 34 occupied bald eagle territories in Arkansas each fledged at least one young eagle. These 21 successful nests represent more than twice the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Bald Eagle Recovery Plan down-listing goal of 10 eagle nests in the state. In 1999, 38 young eagles were fledged from Arkansas eagle nests.

Mize said bald eagle nest monitoring has a value at the regional and national scale; it can have important impacts at the local scale as well.

When activity status of a particular nest is determined, management activities of acreage surrounding the nest can be adjusted during the breeding season to either minimize disturbances to the nesting pair or human activities can be expanded when the nest is determined to be inactive.

To assess the state's annual bald eagle nesting activity, personnel conduct visual nesting season surveys no less than twice during the nesting season.

"We keep a close watch on the nest," Mize said. "We were pleased to see the two new eaglets this year."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: