BRAD DOKKEN: East Grand Forks eagles weather the storm
Local birders say they’re optimistic three juvenile bald eagles survived Monday night’s storm after high winds knocked the nest to the ground north of East Grand Forks.
Ron Fischer, a Grand Forks attorney who has taken literally thousands of photos of eagles at the site in the past seven years, said he discovered the nest on the ground Tuesday morning.
Two of the three juveniles were with the fallen nest, Fischer said.
He then contacted Tim Driscoll, a Grand Forks raptor expert who also has been tracking the birds, to have him check on the juvenile pair.
Driscoll said the young birds appeared to be fine.
“They could fly but they were just kind of running on the ground,” he said.
Driscoll used a dip net to catch one of the juveniles and dried off the young bird.
“I’m not a doctor but he looked fine to me — no broken wings,” Driscoll said.
He then returned the eagle to the fallen nest, only to watch the bird fly about a foot off the ground, down the ditch and into about 2 feet of water.
Catching the eagle again and returning the bird to the nest, Driscoll then checked on the second juvenile.
“He was clearly older and bigger,” Driscoll said. “He could fly a little bit, but the grass was 2 feet high so it was hard to get liftoff.”
Driscoll eventually got both of the young eagles calmed down and left them on the nest.
“We had reports throughout the day they were still on the nest, but nobody had seen the adults,” Driscoll said.
Fischer said he saw both juveniles at the fallen nest early Tuesday evening, but Driscoll and Grand Forks birding expert Dave Lambeth visited the site later that night and found no sign of the birds.
Since then, though, Fischer said at least one of the juveniles has been perched on trees at the nest site, along with reports of one of the adults feeding at least one — and perhaps more — near the fallen nest.
Driscoll said a third juvenile, believed to be the oldest of the three eagles, also has been seen flying with two adult birds that likely are the parents. Driscoll says he hasn’t seen all three juveniles together, but all indications are they’re the trio that fell with the nest.
“I guess we don’t know for sure, but a baby is hanging around with the adults standing on the nest — I assume it’s the oldest baby,” Driscoll said. “And from the looks of the way that nest was on the ground and the way those babies were sitting, I wonder if they didn’t go down with the ship.”
Driscoll on Thursday said he’s seen two juveniles about three times, and each time they look better. The juveniles should be strong enough to fly in a few days, if they’re not already.
“If we’re right about this, the older one was out flying,” Driscoll said. “It’s a safe assumption the older one was out with the adults, and there were two on the ground.”
Fischer, who probably has watched the eagles more closely than anyone, says he’s sure all three juveniles and both adults survived the storm.
Lambeth says he first saw bald eagles nesting along the Red River in 2002, and a pair of eagles began nesting at the site of the fallen nest in 2003. At first, Lambeth says, he thought the nesting effort would fail because the eagles were so close to East Grand Forks, but it appears they tolerate people very well.
Fischer says eagles have successfully nested at the site for at least the past six years, if not longer.
Eagles returned to nest in the Red River Valley in 2000 or thereabouts after being absent for more than a century, Lambeth said, driven west as Minnesota’s population expanded.
The big question, he says, is whether the eagles will rebuild the nest that was knocked down by Monday night’s storm. The nest, he says, has quite a following.
“It seems that the river has more likely sites, but that may not be the way the eagles think,” Lambeth said in an email. “Across North Dakota, eagle nests are frequently located in shelterbelts and in trees around farmsteads.”
They also do a lot of nest building in the fall, he said, so the question could be answered in the next several weeks.
Either way, the occupants of the nest that plummeted to the ground Monday night appear to have survived the storm. Happy endings aren’t always the outcome in the natural world, so the fate of the young eagles is a welcome turn of events that hopefully continues on the same track.