Thursday, December 20, 2007

Story about another--even bigger--urban raptor

[explanation of the photos at the end]

A few weeks ago I received the following letter from Terri Lhuillier in Redding, California:

Greetings Marie,
I read your book several years ago, and as an educator and avid "birder", I have showed the movie "Pale Male" to all of my students. I am fortunate enough to live in an area where we see Red-tail Hawks almost daily, but I still enjoy each and every sighting!
I am writing to you today to see if you might offer some advice on a disturbing situation that has occurred in my City of Redding, California. For the past 2 and 1/2 years, my family and I have been like your loyal Central Park bird watchers and we have had the great privilege of watching a nesting pair of Bald Eagles right in the middle of our city! We have the Sacramento River running through the middle of town, and the Bald Eagles set up shop there 3 years ago. We have watched as these two beautiful birds prepared their nest, mated, and raised their eaglets.
This year, the pair returned early (Oct/Nov) and started spending time near or in their nest. We thought it was a bit early, but nevertheless, they were there. We watched them daily, and were excited about another successful breeding year.
However, on November 16th, I noticed a large black cone had been placed right on top of the Bald Eagle's nest! I was shocked and began making phone calls immediately. I soon found out that CalTrans, Fish & Game, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife had jointly agreed to block the nest to deter the Bald Eagle from nesting there this next year. They want them to go to an alternate nesting site this year because there will be construction near that area in '08. However, I don't know why they didn't do this 3-4 months ago before the pair returned to their nest!
My concerns are that they are in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that you mentioned in your book. I know that Fish & Wildlife are in charge of enforcing those laws, but I still think that those laws need to be abided by them? My concerns are that they didn't realize that the pair had already returned, and now that they have returned, they shouldn't be allowed to "molest or disturb" their nest. My other concern is that the alternative nesting sight is miles away from the original site, and I have no idea how they will know to go that particular site at this point?

I wrote to her privately with advice, and forwarded her letter to John Blakeman. But I didn't post the story since it wasn't about Central Park. Well, now that the story has reached a conclusion, I'm happily posting the outcome. There's also a letter from John Blakeman at the end, with another story about an urban raptor.

Greetings Marie and John!
I have some wonderful news tonite! Caltrans agreed to sit down with a small group of us(concerned citizens) and they gave us the best news possible...They are taking the cone off the nest tomorrow! We were so thrilled, and just hope that there is still time for this Bald Eagle pair to have another successful breeding season.
The pair of eagles had still remained in the area of their nest, waiting patiently for that cone to be removed so they could go about their business. And, now their persistence and patience has paid off! We can all learn a lot from observing wildlife, can't we?
I just wanted to thank both of you for your help and support, it was tremendously beneficial to our effort, and tremendously appreciated by me personally.
Just a side note, in preparation for today's meeting, I watched the Pale Male Video last night to give me additional information and inspiration. I guess it worked!
Thanks again,
Terri Lhuillier

When he received the letter John Blakeman wrote her the following astonishing reply, with pictures to prove it:

My congratulations to you, and the Caltrans people, for coming up with a solution. Yes, the eagles will go right back to their old nest and work on it all winter. In spring, the female will get serious about refurbishing it and she is very likely to have another productive year.
Two points. The first, unfortunately, is that Bald Eagles are famous for being productive for two or three years (sometimes, only in a single year) and then they take a year off. They go through all the motions of laying eggs, but simply fail to do so. It's a normal part of their biology. This tends to happen more frequently following a previous year's production of three eaglets. This apparently wears out the parents and they then sometimes take a year off. They hang around, go through the motions, but simply don't lay any eggs.
If that happens, don't presume that it was the December disturbances at the nest that caused the failure. This is normal. We have a dozen Bald Eagle's nests here along the south sore of Lake Erie. I have one just a mile north of my house, and the pair produced three eaglets three years consecutively. Everything looked really good, but then last year they just refused to nest. They were worn out. I fully expect them to be back at the nest this spring and resume normal nesting.
Again, this periodic nesting infrequency is normal with Bald Eagles.
My second point, much better, is that this pair is obviously acclimated to nearby human activities. There is a real good chance that construction activities won't bother the pair.
Here in Erie County, Ohio, outside of Sandusky, a pair of eagles nested in a tree in a suburban backyard, paying no attention to the people living there. While they had backyard parties, mowed the lawn, and did all normal things people do in backyards, the eagle pair sat way up in the nest and incubated three eaglets.
Then, in May, the local park district ranger got a call from the home owner, claiming that the newly-fledged eaglets had dropped down onto the trampoline in the backyard and were jumping on IT e children. The ranger, a friend of mine, didn't believe this was possible, but drove over to the site to see. Sure enough, one toddler eaglet was bouncing up and down on the trampoline, exactly as the homeowner claimed. The bird's sibling perched on the edge of the trampoline, dutifully awaiting its turn.
Those of us who have watched hawk and eagle fledglings know that to hone their flying reflexes they spend much time on the nest jumping up into the air above the nest while learning how to flap their wings. The eaglets were doing this on the trampoline, just as they had done a day earlier in the more rigid nest above.
Then, to top all of this, the ranger turned around and noticed that the third eaglet had dropped out of a nearby tree and landed right on the emergency safety light bar across the top of his cruiser.
We have photos of all of this. Without those, no one would have believed the ranger's story.
So, lets hope that your eagles become equally acclimated to all of the human activity below. The Red-tailed Hawks of Central Park pay no attention to humans. Bald Eagles can learn these lessons, too.
We thank you for intelligently intervening in this important matter.
Please keep up posted on how things turn out.

John A. Blakeman