Bald eagles like nasty weather, making it easier for a group of about 40 people to see one of the most majestic North American raptors sail through the sky at Tuttle Creek State Park.
The Army Corps of Engineers hosted Bald Eagle Day on Saturday, showing off the eagles that have nested in the east side of the park near Tuttle Creek Lake. Although the weather was bitterly cold and snow still covered the park, the eagles were out searching for prey and were easy for visitors to see.
The visitors also could see a juvenile bald eagle, which does not yet have its white feathers on its head, hanging out in a tree.
Bald eagles are only found in North America and were endangered birds in the 1960s. But since the 1970s the population has increased, said Michele McNulty, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
McNulty said it took about 40 years to increase the population enough to remove the birds as endangered species because they are slow-reproducing animals. Even though they are no longer endangered, bald eagles are still protected by several laws.
In 1989 Kansas only had one bald eagle nest, which was in Clinton Reservoir, near Lawrence. Today there are about 107 nests in Kansas.
Melissa Bean, Tuttle Creek Lake park manager, said there are currently four bald eagle nests in the Tuttle Creek Lake area, but how active they are is “debatable.”
The biologists are able to track the eagles by attaching small bands to their legs as identifiers.
“We know through the banding program that the male eaglets that are fledged here in Kansas generally come back to Kansas to nest,”McNulty said.“And that’s the reason our population has grown.”
Pat Silovsky and Vanessa Avara, of the Milford Nature Center, showed off several raptors that are common in Kansas.
Raptors, also known as birds of prey, are identified by two attributes: sharp, curved beaks and long talons, Silovsky said.
“This beak is designed for tearing,” Silovsky said.
“There are a lot of other meat-eating birds out there, but their beaks aren’t shaped like this.”
The largest bird they showed is also one of the most common raptors in Kansas: the red-tailed hawk. Avara held the large bird on one of her hands, and she explained the birds’ differences and general diet.
Red-tailed hawks are often hard to identify because they can be different colors, Avara said. She said some red-tailed hawks look different based on where they are from, but Kansas can see all of them.
“A majority of them come through the state of Kansas because we are central and we get amazing bird life here because of our location,” she said. “We get a lot of birds from both east and west.”
The two also showed off the small “football shaped” falcon, a tiny screech owl, a super soft barn owl, large feathery barred owl, a feisty turkey vulture and finally a small and sleek Mississippi kite.
Lindi Hight, who brought her husband and four kids to the event, said she only recently found out bald eagles were in the area, and she was excited to attend the event.
“I’ve never seen an eagle’s nest,” she said. “I thought, ‘I need to brave the cold and come out and see it.’” Although 40 people is a pretty large group, the event used to bring out about 150, Bean said. A scheduling conflict canceled the event in 2016, which may have affected how many turned out this year.
But organizers hope the turnout increases again in the future.
“Today was very good,” she said. “We got some great feedback.”