Bald eagles take refuge at Sutherland Reservoir

January 16, 2014

Eighty-nine of the nation’s most regal birds – bald eagles – were seen last week nestling into a favorite wintertime retreat at Sutherland Reservoir. The convocation, which consisted of 50 mature and 39 immature birds, began showing up at the reservoir last Monday after an extreme cold spell left Lake Maloney, the Platte River and many other bodies of water in the vicinity completely frozen over and unavailable for foraging.

“Sutherland Reservoir is one of the few locations that always has open water because the power plant circulates warm water into the lake, preventing it from freezing,” said GGS Environmental Coordinator Doug Harris. “And, open water is just what these eagles are looking for, because it allows them to scavenge for fish and waterfowl.”


However, with warm weather expected to bring ice melt over the next few days, the eagles will have their choice on where to scavenge for food.

“Although bald eagles are dispersing a bit from Sutherland Reservoir, this won’t be the last of them we see here,” said Harris. In fact, the birds typically show up in the area in late November or early December, and stay until March.

“Even more exciting is that we’ve noticed eagles are sticking around for good, choosing to make the Sutherland Reservoir ‘home,’” Harris said.

Although eagles are no longer on the endangered species list, like least terns or piping plovers, NPPD ensures the birds are protected at Sutherland Reservoir by first guarding nearby habitat.

“There are trees around the reservoir we try not to disturb or remove,” said Harris. “These trees provide perching branches for the eagles, and a camouflaged lookout for the birds to swoop down to attack their prey.”

While mature bald eagles have white heads, juveniles’ are typically black. Bald eagles build the largest nest of any bird in North America. In fact, some have been known to be up to 13 feet deep, more than eight feet wide, and one metric ton in weight. Bald eagles are the national bird of the U.S.

“Even though we counted more than 100 eagles at Sutherland Reservoir several years back when performing weekly counts, the number we’ve seen there last week is nearly record breaking, and impressive, nonetheless,” said CGO Environmental Manager Joe Citta. “If you have the chance, I’d encourage you to visit the area soon to observe these majestic birds. Please do so in a way that doesn’t disturb them.”

There are several areas around Sutherland Reservoir the public can view eagles. The best, safest areas for viewing include either side of the golf course (located on the north side of the lake), both of which house large, cottonwood trees down by the water, or the Hershey Beach area.

“Please note it is illegal to disturb eagles in their natural setting,” said Harris. “These birds are easily spooked out of trees when vehicles approach too closely. Please park at a distance and view the birds through binoculars.”

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