By Jennifer Gallus
HOWARD LAKE, MN - Bald eagle sightings are getting to be the norm in the area during the past few years. Several Howard Lake residents have been talking about the eagles lately, as well as having fun taking pictures of the patriotic birds.
Not surprising, since Minnesota boasts the highest number of bald eagle breeding pairs in the lower 48 states. A 2007 US Fish and Wildlife Service study estimated that Minnesota has 1,312 breeding pairs, Florida is a close second with 1,133, and Wisconsin is third with 1,065.
“They’re really cool,” Howard Lake resident Rena Gruenhagen said of the bald eagle pair she spotted in her pasture.
Brian and Rena Gruenhagen farm just north of Howard Lake, and for the past few years, have observed bald eagles atop their tallest trees.
However, the family hadn’t been visited by a pair of bald eagles until this year; normally just singles have patronized their pasture.
“They’re huge, too. When they fly, you can hear their wings beating,” Gruenhagen said.
On a recent picture perfect, warm and sunny Sunday Nov. 2 to be exact Rena captured our country’s symbol of freedom perching in a tree in her pasture.
With the still image of the eagle pair on film under her belt, and in her heart, Rena hopes to someday get a good picture of an eagle in flight.
“That’s pretty hard to do,” she said.
Howard Lake resident John Ringold lives on Howard Lake and said that he often observes bald eagles in the trees that are near the lake on his property.
“One day, there were some young eagles trying to have breakfast on the coots that were swimming on the lake,” Ringold recalled. “During each attempt, the coots would dive under the water.”
Howard Lake resident Mick Nedegaard said he’s seen bald eagles land in the trees at Codger’s Cove Campground.
“There’s not a nest in the trees here, but we see them periodically,” Nedegaard explained. “This year, it’s just been one eagle, but last year we had three that would regularly sit in an old, dead tree here that has a lot of holes in it.”
Another Howard Lake resident, Sam Gruenhagen, who lives on Taylor Lake, also reported many eagle sightings this year.
“They were here every day, for about three or four weeks, before the lake froze over,” Gruenhagen said. “They would circle the lake, and come up with a big carp in their claws.”
In fact, Gruenhagen snapped a picture of the successful hunter, but the picture turned out a bit blurred.
The eagles he observed were young eagles that hadn’t developed the white heads yet.
“At one time, there were six of them circling my flag pole,” Gruenhagen laughed.
The presence of bald eagles can be an indicator for measuring the health of the entire ecological system in which they live, according to www.baldeagles.org.
Basic bald eagle facts
Because of a dramatic decrease in its population, the bald eagle was placed on the endangered species list in 1978. After a successful campaign to increase numbers, the eagle’s status was upgraded to “threatened” in 1995.
Today, the bald eagle continues to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Bald Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The fact that the bald eagle is unique to North America is one of the main reasons the bird was chosen as the national emblem by the Second Continental Congress in 1782.
Ben Franklin wanted the wild turkey as the national emblem instead because he thought bald eagles were of bad moral character.
The distinct white head of bald eagles aren’t developed until they’re 5 years of age, and at one time the word “bald” meant “white,” not hairless, according to www.baldeagle.com.
The main diet of eagles is fish, which they can spot at distances up to one mile. Supplemental food includes waterfowl, small mammals, and carrion.
Eagles can lift and carry prey that weigh up to 5 pounds. They have been known to either drown while trying to lift prey that is too heavy, or they can actually swim to shore with heavy prey while using its wings as paddles, according to www.baldeagles.org.
Adult eagles have a wing span of seven feet. Adult males weigh about nine pounds, while adult females weigh between 12 and 13 pounds.
Life expectancy in the wild is from 30 to 35 years, while in captivity they can live up to 50 years.