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Eagles return to Big Swan Lake despite loss of trees
JULY 2, 2012
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By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

DASSEL, MN – Eagles have been nesting in large white pine trees in Jeanette and Lloyd Tenhoff’s yard since they moved to their home near Big Swan Lake 20 years ago.

However, the Tenhoffs lost the large tree that contained the eagles’ nest in a storm last July, and the couple was not sure that their beloved eagles would return this year.

They were pleasantly surprised early this spring to see a young eagle pair building a new nest in what remained of the second white pine in their yard.

Although the new nest is not as large as the previous nest, the young pair managed to hatch a couple of eggs.

“I don’t know how they got the eggs and the babies to stay in that nest,” Jeanette said, noting it was not nearly as solidly built as the previous nest.

The eagle families have provided the Tenhoffs with entertainment year-round, and it is a joy to watch the eagles during morning coffee on the deck, according to the Tenhoffs.

Please note: While the Tenhoffs enjoy sharing their eagles, they do not like people just showing up and walking in their yard; it is private property.

However, people who would like a good view of the eagles can view the nest by looking east from 742nd Avenue, which runs along the east side of Big Swan Lake.

Watching eagles raise their young ‘is a thrill’

In February 1993, Jeanette was laying on her couch when she saw the shadow of a large bird. “Holy gall, that’s an eagle,” she thought after getting a closer look.

The Tenhoffs discovered a huge eagle’s nest in the large white pine tree in their yard, and began watching the pair of eagles that lived there.

Eagles mate for life, and typically return to the same nest year after year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The eagles at the Tenhoffs remain all year, since there is open water to hunt year-round near Big Swan Lake.

Each year, the Tenhoffs watched the eagle pair raise its young, with two or three eggs being laid in February or March.

Eagle eggs hatch after about 35 days of incubation, which is done by both the male and female. One to two eaglets usually hatch and survive, according to the DNR.

“They were wonderful eagles, who shared taking care of the young and sitting on the eggs,” Jeanette said of the first pair nesting in their yard.

Young eagles leave the nest between four to eight weeks, and then leave their parents at 20 to 24 weeks, according to the DNR.

Most years, after the eaglets leave the nest, they are curious and will walk around on the ground in Tenhoffs’ yard.

“They are so funny when they walk – like a penguin,” Jeanette said, noting how they stand upright when walking. “They come on the deck and on the picnic table. They are very inquisitive when they get down on the ground – they’re just funny.”

One year, an eaglet fell out of the nest before it was ready to begin flying. The Tenhoffs named it “Buddy,” and it was in the yard for two days.

Finally, Lloyd set it atop the roof of the house next door, and it was able to get back into the nest.

“It’s really interesting to have them, especially around 4 to 6 p.m. at night,” Jeanette said, noting that is usually when the young are most active, exercising their wings in preparation for flight.

The first pair of eagles continued to nest in the Tenhoffs’ yard until just a few years ago, when the female was attacked by five other adult eagles.

The female fought valiantly, and her mate chased the five eagles off, according to the Tenhoffs.

“[The male eagle] in the old pair was very protective and a good provider,” Jeanette said.

However, the female eagle was later found near a neighbors mailbox with maggots in the wounds on her wings.

Although the female eagle was transported to the raptor center to treat the injuries, she was too severely injured to save.

Since there were no babies that year, the Tenhoffs believe they were also killed in the attack.

Following the death of the female, a young pair of eagles took over the nest. The new pair may be the offspring of the original pair, returning to the area to nest, Lloyd said.

And then, the nest was destroyed last July, landing right behind the Tenhoffs’ home.

“It took three snowmobile trailers to clean up the old nest,” Lloyd said, adding that an eagle nest can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.

Since they did not find any eaglets while cleaning up the old nest, the Tenhoffs don’t think there were any babies last year.

Despite the loss of the nest, a young eagle pair built a new nest. It is unclear if it is the same young pair as last year.

While other eagles also came around this year, the young female chased them away, Jeanette said.

The Tenhoffs did not realize until recently that the young pair had hatched two babies, because they were so quiet.

“Usually they are so noisy, you can’t hardly stand it,” Jeanette said.

This young pair is different than the old pair. “He’s gone most of the time – not a good provider,” Jeanette said. “The old pair was more together, more family-oriented. These ones – not so much.”

Jeanette thought it may be because they are so young, she said.

Although it is hoped the eagles will continue to nest in the Tenhoffs’ yard following this summer, it may not happen. Another tree that provided shelter and shade for the new nest fell Memorial Day weekend.

“No matter how often I see them, it’s a thrill – gives me goose bumps,” Jeanette said. “I don’t know what it is, maybe because they are so majestic.”

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