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Winter eagle watching

IMG_6635 adobeMajestic Bald Eagles begin arriving in Oklahoma in November and December to spend the winter. Although we have a few breeding pairs in the state, most are here only in winter around the larger lakes and head back north by March.  Good numbers are being reported now.  I’ve seen a lone eagle several times at Lake Thunderbird recently and eagles on my last two trips to the Wichita Mountains.

Photo by Lindell Dillon.

Sometimes eagles will feed and roost communally during winter.  One of the most awesome sights I’ve witnessed in nature was a gathering of over 200 eagles at a temporary food source last December in eastern Oklahoma.  They normally feed on fish early in the morning.  The photo was taken at a distance because the birds wouldn’t allow me close, but 70 eagles can be see in and around this one tree. Eagles may fly as far as 50 miles from roost to feed and if they gorge themselves may not feed the next day.  They are also scavengers and will feed on carrion.

Depending on the weather and water conditions at Oklahoma lakes, wildlife experts estimate we have between 800-2,000 eagles in the winter.  Lakes and their spillways are generally reliable Oklahoma bald eagle viewing areas. Lakes with the highest concentration of eagles are Kaw, Keystone, Texoma, Tenkiller, IMG_6589 adobeFt. Gibson, Grand, Canton, Great Salt Plains, Tishomingo and Spavinaw.  The Christmas holidays are an excellent time to get outdoors and do some eagle viewing. About all that is needed is a good pair of binoculars.

Photo by Lindell Dillon.  Click to enlarge.

The resident eagles are already beginning to nest. The Sutton Avian Research Center has two live eagle cams trained on nests at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge and Sooner Lake.  The birds at Sequoyah have an egg in the nest already.  The birds at Sooner are visiting the nest they have used in previous years, but have not produced an egg yet.  It’s not possible to tell eagle sexes at a distance except for their size.  The female will be the larger one if you see two together.  The eagle cams can be viewed at http://suttoncenter.org/pages/live_eagle_camera

Eagle watching is a fun activity for kids and old kids.  If you can’t make it to a good eagle viewing area, you can watch them from your favorite chair at home.

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