A new couple has moved into Harper County. This couple is bald, feathery and high. Well, the nest they built is high, in the air. It’s a pair of Bald Eagles nesting near the Beaver River just east of Laverne.
George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center’s mission is finding cooperative conservation solutions for birds and the natural world through science and education. Senior Biologist Dan Reinking said the female was tagged 7 years ago and they’ve been tracking her.
“One of those two birds was a bird that fledged from a nest here in eastern Oklahoma,” Reinking said. “We put a satellite tracking transmitter on her when she was still in the nest as a youngster and we've been tracking her ever since then. She has settled down to start her own territory and have a nest. They're near Laverne this year so we're pretty excited about that.”
The eagle project with the Research Center involved going to Florida where there still was a healthy population of eagles and collecting eggs from wilderness there. Those eggs were brought back to Oklahoma
“We raised them using very specialized methods,” Reinking explained. “We always work in costumes or use one way glass to prevent Eagles from seeing us because we didn't want them to become imprinted on people or associate people with food. We wanted them to be wild once, once we re released them.”
According to Reinking, there's a very lengthy release process that takes place. Eagles take four to five years to mature and actually settled down to establish their own nesting territory.
“Ever since that time, the numbers have been growing in Oklahoma,” Reinking said. “We've organized a volunteer crew to help monitor the nests each year. We've seen steady growth for the past decade and a half or so that we've been monitoring.”
Having raised and released 275 eggs over several years in the late 80s and early 90s, most of the birds that are now nesting in Oklahoma can trace their genetics back to some of those birds. Initially 90 were raised and released in Oklahoma and the rest were in four other southeastern states.
“The Arkansas River Corridor here in northeastern Oklahoma is probably the densest population of Eagles nesting here in the state,” Reinking said. “We’re excited to see more and more new nests popping up in western Oklahoma, which historically has had far fewer Eagles than the wetter east part of the state.”
According to Reinking, the Research Center gets a lot of calls from people concerned about their local nest. Construction activity, especially, continues to be an issue for eagles. The female at Laverne has found an untagged mate.
Local residents have seen the male scavenging carcasses on the side of the road as far from the nest as Log Cabin Corner, which Reinking said is normal. He said unfortunately, sometimes an eagle will get hit from scavenging on or near a roadway.
“Power lines can certainly be a hazard to eagles, either by flying into them or sometimes being electrocuted by them if they land on a pole and ground themselves with a wing or something,” Reinking shared. “In certain parts of the country, wind turbans have been a problem for eagles where there's a wind facility.”
Duke Energy is planning to install some technologies in a wind facility in Kay County. The technology can allegedly detect an incoming eagle near the wind farm and quickly turn an individual turbine off until that eagle has passed, according to Reinking.
“We’re excited to see how well that works out,” Reinking said.
According to Reinking, bald eagle nesting season in Oklahoma is roughly from December through May. When each pair actually starts laying their eggs varies. The incubation time is 33 days.
“There are there are nests that have chicks already this season and there are other nests that will still be incubating for quite a while,” Reinking said. “They're usually in the nest for about little over two months, usually about 10 or 12 weeks. That's what lends itself to putting a camera on the nest because it the whole process takes so long from angling to when the chicks leave.”
The George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center has an Eagle Cam set up at one of the eastern Oklahoma nests you can watch from their website at suttoncenter.org.
Oklahoma has approximately 200 active nests now with pairs moving further west. Each pair has a variable territory from several miles apart typically to sometimes as close as half a mile, according to Reinking.