Big Birds Along the Creek

They aren’t yellow and they’re not as big as Big Bird on Sesame Street, but eagles and Canadian Geese are both big birds for the prairie! Most of the birds returning this spring are much smaller and most are very noisy like the geese. However, we do hear an eagle call occasionally.

Margaret took this photo earlier this winter when we first started seeing a lot of eagles. That included several days when we had “double eagles” (a.k.a. two eagles in one tree); during the first ten days of December, we had 13 sightings. It seemed like they’d fly northeast up the Creek in the morning and come back down the Creek in the afternoon. They were probably headed back downstream to permanent nesting areas along the Rock River. Sometimes they’d stop in our big old cottonwood tree and as the warm winter got closer to springtime, we started seeing them a lot more often.

March must be good for eagles! There are many online “eagle cams” watching eggs and tracking specific individuals. Search Google for one near you. I had a friend recommend the Raptor Resource Project near Decorah, Iowa, and this route map is an example of their work. They’ve tracked birds for some pretty impressive distances along the Mississippi and points north. It shows that the banded birds like to follow big streams and that matches our eagles’ behavior along the much smaller Kanaranzi Creek.

This bar graph shows our eagle sightings along the Creek since the first of the year. It was slow and steady from January 1 to March 1 because we had 16 sightings over the 60-day period. Then on March 4 and 5 there were 10 separate “sightings”! That included two times when there were four of them in the Eagle Tree…two adults and two immature ones without white heads and tails. Then there was a conspicuous dry spell with only a couple of sightings. That’s when the geese took over the pasture.

When the geese moved in and started shopping for nesting sites, things got really noisy. That happens pretty much every year, but I wonder if the racket drove the eagles away this year? I suppose goose eggs might be eagle food, but it’ll probably be awhile before that delicacy is available. In the meantime, could the adult geese be prey for eagles? They’re both big birds. I would think that the eagles might prefer to have a dead goose carcass for lunch rather than tackle a big old mad, live goose!

Here’s a picture of lunch counter for eagles and coyotes (and maybe mountain lions?). This hog barn is built on the site of an old homestead near where Dad and his sister went to country school back in the 1920s. That farmer was reported to have a stuffed eagle sitting on the piano in his parlor. The bird was shot when it was supposedly stealing chickens. Since this hog barn was built about ten years ago, both coyotes and eagles have helped to clean up the piles of dead pigs before the rendering truck makes it’s rounds hauling off the bodies.

Over the years, eagles have survived the threat of getting shot as chicken thieves. But in the 1950s and 1960s, populations dropped off dramatically because DDT made their eggshells fragile. By the early 2000s the ban on DDT had allowed eagle populations to recover and in the last decade or so it has grown significantly. There is, however, a new threat. A neurological disease associated with bacteria on an invasive aquatic weed is killing eagles and other birds. So, the challenges that eagles have experienced have evolved from being physically shot to being poisoned by chemical contaminants to being infected by a microbial menace. We’re really lucky to be able to see any of these iconic birds flying along the Creek and stopping for a rest in the big cottonwood tree.

About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
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