Vickroy: Get closer view of eagles’ new offspring
It’s not exactly a bird’s-eye view, but the public can now get even closer to a rare eagles’ nest in Palos Township.
Cook County Forest Preserve officials have cleared a path north along the eastern banks of Tampier Slough, enabling bird watchers to get within 250 yards of the cottonwood tree that holds the giant eagles’ nest that was first discovered more than a year ago.
“This is a closer and safer spot for people to watch for the birds, yet it’s far enough to keep the birds safe, too,” said Jim Phillips, fisheries biologist for the district. “We don’t want the eagles to sense danger and fly off, leaving their young.”
When eaglets were first spied in the nest last year, bird watchers lined up along 131st Street just west of Wolf Road, hoping to catch of glimpse of creatures that hadn’t been seen in these parts for about a century. The new pathway gets viewers about 100 yards closer, up to the water’s edge. And, if they bring along binoculars, it may provide them with a glimpse of at least one new baby.
On Wednesday, through a high-powered spotting scope, one adult eagle and the gray top of the head of at least one eaglet were visible inside the nest. Phillips said they suspect there may be two babies.
Phillips said the birds are expected to stay in the nest for at least a few months. Now is the best time to spy them, before the leaves in surrounding trees form a natural curtain.
Eagles, he said, mate for life. Typically, they build a nest for their young and return to it each year, cleaning house and building it up a bit each time. The current nest is about 6 feet across and 4 feet deep.
Until the eaglets fledge, one adult stays with them, while the other hunts for food, which is mostly fish.
Phillips said officials aren’t sure if one baby fledged last year, or two. “It’s hard to tell because they look identical,” he said. Young eagles are completely dark.
Once a baby eagle has left the nest, it does not return. It sets off on its own journey. Phillips said it’s hard to say where last year’s eaglet is now.
It takes about five years for the eaglet to develop the white head and yellow beak of a mature eagle, Phillips said. That is about the time it will choose a mate and have offspring.
When that time comes, Phillips said, there’s a good chance last year’s baby will return to the Palos area to build its nest. Before long, he added, we could start seeing lots of eagles in this area.
Already another nest has been spied in the Lake Calumet area, he said.
A century ago, eagles were abundant in these parts. But pesticide use and habitat destruction either killed them off or forced them to search for a new homeland, Phillips said.
The fact that these birds, as well as other once-endangered species, including the peregrine falcon, are returning is a good sign, Phillips said.
“It means the population is getting bigger and that they are spreading out.”
Last year’s excitement over the first eaglet to be seen in the area in decades was infectious. Not only did the public come out in droves to see the birds of prey, even forest preserve officials got caught up in the excitement, often comparing eagle sightings.
Phillips said he believes the adult eagles stayed here for the winter.
“I do a Christmas bird count at Little Red Schoolhouse (in Willow Springs),” he said. “I saw two adult eagles on the slough.”
Another time, he saw an eagle carrying a very large goldfish.
Sometime around the end of February, he said, the adults returned to the nest. That meant eggs.
“It’s just really cool,” he said.
Phillips said, for the most part, people have been respectful of the birds’ need for space, although a few trespassers have been picked up trying to get too close. Hefty fines await anyone caught disturbing either the birds or the nest, he said.
Wildlife lovers can also now look for ospreys and turkey vultures. Here’s a way to distinguish among them: when eagles fly, their wings are straight and flat across; ospreys’ wings have a crook, resembling an M shape; turkey vultures’ wings are V-shaped when they soar.
“I live here in the Orland area and I never thought I’d be able to say that I live within a mile of eagles, ospreys and palliated woodpeckers,” Phillips said. “It’s amazing.”
Sadly, while nature lovers celebrate the comeback of once-threatened birds of prey, many songbirds are now disappearing, Phillips said.
Their habitat is being destroyed both here and in the areas of South America where they winter.
If you are a fan, however, of warblers and wood thrushes and other deep woods nesters, now is peak time to see and hear them, as they are returning to their summer homes.
“We’re entering peak migration for songbirds now,” he said.
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is offering several migratory birding activities. Among them, A Celebration Of Birds: International Migratory Bird Day at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center. It will be from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 11 at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, 12545 W. 111th St. Lemont. For more information, visit www.fpdcc.com.