Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 5, 2004

Bald eagle pairs return to Howard Lake for third year

By Liz Hellmann

For perhaps the third year in a row, two pairs of bald eagles have decided to make Howard Lake and the surrounding area their home.

One pair frequently flies over the house of Melissa Shelton, a veterinarian who lives by Albright’s Mill.

Shelton graduated from the University of Minnesota, and works with the world-renowned Raptor Center, located near campus.

“The eagles have been flying over our house consistently for the last two years,” Shelton said.

Although she hasn’t seen them herself yet this year, Shelton is sure they’ll be back.

“Eagles mate for life and keep the same nesting site,” Shelton said. The eagles fly south for the winter and come back when the weather gets warmer,” she said.

“They keep building up their nests year after year. Some nests can be six feet deep and six feet wide, and weigh more than a ton,” she said.

Local tips have also resulted in sightings of the eagles in the past three weeks.

Shelton is nearly positive there are two pairs in the area. There have been sightings of two mature bald eagles near Wright County Road 6.

Because they are mature, they both have the distinctive white heads and yellow beaks.

However, one of the eagles that flies over Shelton’s house has a light brown head.

Shelton believes it to be a young mate, or an offspring, whose head will soon turn white.

The eagles have likely made Wright County their home because of the surrounding lakes and the Crow River.

“They like to stay by water, either lakes or rivers, and hunt for fish, which is their main food source,” Shelton said.

“Sometimes we can see pockets of fish in the river, which I can imagine is good fishing for them.” The eagles like carp, which are plentiful in the river.

Eagles have a six- to eight-foot wingspan and can weigh up to 15 pounds. Their feet are about the size of a human hand, and their built-in ratcheting mechanism makes it easy for them to clamp down on a fish or small animal and carry it away.

A good location to see the eagles would be at Albright’s Mill Park on County Road 5.

“It would be a great place to sit and have lunch and watch for them,” Shelton said.

The park is near Shelton’s house, and she can usually spot the eagles around mid afternoon, anytime from noon to 4 p.m.

Eagles aren’t the only raptors in the area. Other raptors include red-tailed hawks, sharp-tailed hawks, and kestrels.

The once endangered red-tailed hawks have made a comeback, and can now be seen on the roadside often. “I’ve seen a red-tailed hawk swoop down and grab a squirrel from the backyard,” Shelton said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Owls are also common raptors in the area. Shelton can hear a great horned owl hooting at night in the woods near her house.

Sometimes, Shelton finds an injured raptor. “I can stabilize the raptor and take it to the Raptor Center,” Shelton said. The Raptor Center can fix broken bones and perform other surgeries and treatments.

There are a variety of reasons raptors may be injured.

The most common injuries for eagles include being shot, getting legs caught in leg traps, lead poisoning from lead shot or fishing weights, and being hit by cars while eating dead deer on the side of the road.

If the eagles in this area can stay injury-free, they could be around for awhile. The average lifespan of an eagle in the wild is 40 years.

“Hopefully, we can keep the river clean so they have good fishing, and they’ll keep coming back here for a long time,” Shelton said.

More information on eagles and other raptors can be found on the Raptor Center’s website, www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu.

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