Volunteers get rare opportunity to witness banding of two bald eaglets
Michael Larson, lineman, West Star Energy, left, and Ron Trudo, manager, Westar Energy, right, get a first-hand look at an eagle’s nest with eaglets April 22 off of Custer Road. Larson and Trudo were among several volunteers who assisted with banding the eaglets. Photo by: Calun Reece, POST.
Story by: Calun Reece
1ST INF. DIV. POST
"Peering into a bald eagle's nest with eaglets was pretty darn neat," said Ron Trudo, manager, Westar Energy.
Two eaglets were banded April 22 on Custer road at Fort Riley.
Trudo was one of several volunteers who experienced – firsthand – the process of banding bald eaglets.
To reach the eaglets, volunteers were hoisted up to the top of the tree by a service truck. Once volunteers reached the eagle's nest, the eaglets were gently placed in a specifically designed bag, one at a time, and lowered down for banding.
Eaglets are banded with different colored and numbered bands to keep track of their movements, said Steve Wahle, wildlife biologist technician, Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works.
"The birds are banded when they are about 6 to 7 weeks old, which is ideal for accurate measurements, and their feet are not going to get any bigger," said Dan Mulhern, fish and wildlife biologist, Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The colored bands we put on can be read from some distance with binoculars or a spotting scope, and that's how we get our live-bird returns."
Not all states band eaglets, but the states that do participate, have their own colors. Purple is used to identify eaglets originating from Kansas.
Bald eagles were once a threatened and endangered species, but now they have been delisted because of their improvements in numbers throughout the U.S., Wahle said.
The first known bald eagle's nest in Kansas was recorded in 1989, Mulhern said.
"Because there was only one known at that time, the decision was made that we would start gathering as much information about it as we could," Mulhern said. "Part of that was to catch some of the chicks or as many as we could, and do some banding."
More than 200 eaglets have since been banded in Kansas.
"We're trying to maintain as long a database as we can," Mulhern said. "We're not going to keep doing this forever, but we have a nice database."
During the banding, the eaglets also were measured and the sex of the birds were determined. Both eaglets at the Custer Road location are male.
"The nice thing about having two males is, if they survive to breeding age, they'll come back and select a breeding location, probably within 50 to 80 miles of this location here," Mulhern said. "The male chooses the nesting location, and he always goes back pretty close to home."
The mortality of the young birds, however, is high, he said.
Until they figure out how to get good at hunting and feeding themselves, they are vulnerable, Mulhern said, adding that usually no more than two or three out of 10 eaglets will survive until their first birthday.
The way they compensate for their high mortality, however, is by living a long time, he said.
"In captivity, they can live in excess of 50 years," Mulhern said. "In the wild, nobody has really followed a specific eagle for that long."
The first male eagle spotted in Kansas was in 1989 at Clinton Lake, Lawrence, Kan. It is now at least 30 years old, Mulhern said.