Slices of Life: Eagle watching

We’ve been watching the eagles on the lake by our cabin for years. We know where they nest and each spring look forward to revisiting “our” eagles.

Jill Pertler
Jill Pertler

Bald eagles are majestic creatures with wingspans to match (6-8 feet). They are the national bird of the United States, and therefore inherently demand (and deserve) our respect.

Bald eagles used to be in short supply. In the late 20th century they were on the brink of extinction in the contiguous United States. Populations recovered, and the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list and transferred to the list of threatened species in 1995. I’m happy to report it was removed from that list in 2007. Soar eagle, soar!

Bald eagles currently live in Canada, Alaska, all 48 contiguous states and northern Mexico. They are thriving, and we are glad.

We’ve been watching the eagles on the lake by our cabin for years. We know where they nest and each spring look forward to revisiting “our” eagles and wonder how many eaglets they will have in the nest. Sometimes there is just one, other years there are two and rarely, there will be three eggs.

Bald eagles often use the same nest year after year. This is out of necessity, as the nest is no small project. It is situated in the highest branches of the tallest trees, so it’s difficult to get a perspective on how big it really is. It’s so far away, so high up, the magnitude is hard to digest.


According to Wikipedia, a bald eagle’s nest can be as much as 13 feet deep, over 8 feet wide and weigh one metric ton.

Remember, this engineering feat is located high, high in the tall branches of a massive tree and created wholly by a pair of birds weighing approximately 7-14 pounds each. Impressive.

To see the eagles soaring overhead, high in the sky, right in our own backyard on the lake is nothing short of a gift and we embrace it with this mindset every year.

When they fly, they are often fishing. Bald eagles are accomplished fisher birds. They have excellent eyesight and can spot a fish in the water from high above. When they do, they dive bomb at a speed of 75 to 100 miles per hour before snaring the unlucky fish in their talons.

We named our eagles George and Martha. (Martha was about 25% bigger than George.) Bald eagles are attentive and vigilant parents. Both mom and dad take turns sitting on their eggs and looking after their offspring once hatched. When not in the nest proper, they can often be seen on a nearby branch in the treetops.

Last summer George and Martha had one eaglet; we weren’t sure if he (or she) was a male or female, but we named (him?) Washington. Washington was a busy eaglet. We often heard him crying for food, especially right after mom or dad arrived at the nest with a freshly caught fish.

This year we were considering naming our eaglets either Jefferson, John Quincy and/or Homer Simpson, depending on the size of the clutch. We were anxious and excited to locate and observe the newest members of our eagle family.

We spotted the nest up high in the treetops. I had my binoculars ready but they weren’t needed. I could see, sadly, that the nest was unoccupied. There weren’t any adult eagles sitting on nearby branches. The place looked abandoned.


We visited again today and found the same lack of activity. What would make them abandon their nest? We don’t know, but we are sad.

The eagles were always a bright spot to our summer. There are likely other pairs on our lake, and we will look for them and their nests and their broods. If we are lucky we will find a family and get to know them much like we knew George and Martha. We may even come up with new names. I’m thinking something a little less political — like Fred and Wilma or maybe Bonnie and Clyde. I’ll keep you posted.

J ill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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