It’s a bird, it’s a plane… Wait, it’s a bird.
By Bryce Martin
N.D. Group Editor
Photo Courtesy of Mike Beylund
Mike Beylund of Bowman was surprised last month when he came across this bald eagle lying on the ground. The bird was discovered to have eaten pheasants that were shot and filled with lead bullets, which the bird ingested.
Many bald eagles have been spotted flocking around western North Dakota for some time.
While they are becoming more common in the area, it is an unusual time for bald eagles to congregate as their main sources of food have frozen, according to sources.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has asked for help in locating bald eagle nests around the state, some of which can also be found in western North Dakota.
The department does not provide the public with information regarding the location of bald eagle nests to ensure the nests’ safety is protected.
“Most people who call me are pretty excited to see (a bald eagle nest) and they keep an eye on it,” said Sandra Johnson, a Game and Fish Department conservation biologist. She said the department is looking for locations of nests with eagles present, but not individual eagle sightings.
“Eagles are actively incubating eggs in March and April,” Johnson said. “It is easy to distinguish an eagle nest because of its enormous size.”
Historically, Johnson said eagle nests were found along the Missouri River. Now, they have been observed in more than half of the counties in the state, mostly near streams and mid- to large-sized lakes. However, they are also found in unique areas such as shelterbelts surrounded by croplands or pastures.
Johnson estimated that the state has around 120 active bald eagle nests, possibly more.
Bald eagles build the largest nests of any North American bird and the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species—up to 13 feet deep, 8 feet wide and weighing almost one ton.
While out on a hunting trip for coyotes last month, Mike Beylund came across a particularly exciting site.
An injured bald eagle was found lying motionless on the ground about four miles north of Buffalo Springs, between Bowman and Scranton.
“When we were driving down, we saw it sitting on an old building of a homestead,” Beylund said.
The bird was not moving so Beylund called the local game warden. Beylund said the warden assumed that the bird was poisoned.
It was possible that the eagle had eaten pheasants that were shot and the lead from the bullets got into the bird’s system.
The eagle died shortly after.
While Beylund said he hasn’t seen many bald eagle nests lately, there were a couple located near Amidon. Johnson said she didn’t receive any records of those nests, however. Though it is quite common to see the majestic birds in flight or sitting on fence posts.
Observers are asked not to disturb bald eagle nests and to stay away at a safe distance.
“It is important not to approach the nest as foot traffic may disturb the bird, likely causing the eagle to leave her eggs unattended,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the increase in bald and golden eagle sightings in the area could be due to their migration patterns; they’re simply traveling through the area, which Johnson said are called “floaters.”
“We don’t have a real good handle on bald eagles,” Johnson said. “We can’t say if those are the ones going to breed here.”
Those birds could be traveling north to Canada to breed or, as Johnson indicated, could very well choose this area.
This time of year is when most bald eagles will build their nests. But eagles are unique in that they don’t breed until adult age, four or five years old, at which point they have a totally white head and tail.
“Though they don’t seem too picky for huge water,” she explained.
The bald eagle is an “opportunistic feeder,” eating mainly fish, which it swoops down and snatches from the water with its talons.
Bald eagles are not actually bald; their name derives from an older meaning of “white headed.” The adult is mainly brown with a white head and tail. Females are about 25 percent larger than males.
The bald eagle is both the national bird and national animal of the United States. In the late 20th Century, the bald eagle was on the brink of extinction in the continental United States. Populations recovered and the species was removed from the federal government’s list of endangered species in 1995 and transferred to the list of threatened species.
It was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the Lower 48 states in 2007.
Bald and golden eagles are protected by federal regulations. Even if a bald eagle abandons its nest, it is a felony to touch the nest, take it down or remove the tree.
Killing of the birds or its eggs is always considered a felony, Johnson said.
Nest observations should be reported to Johnson at 701-328-6382 or by email at email@example.com.