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Saturday, October 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Gardening: Songbirds quiet, but bald eagles continue to soar

A bald eagle sits perched on farming equipment on Tuesday, March 14, 2017, near the north Spokane Farm Museum off Ridgeway Road near Deer Park, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
A bald eagle sits perched on farming equipment on Tuesday, March 14, 2017, near the north Spokane Farm Museum off Ridgeway Road near Deer Park, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Our neighborhood communication app was buzzing this past week with people wondering where all the winter resident songbirds have gone. Feeders around the Painted Hills and Ponderosa neighborhoods have been very quiet the past month. If any of you ornithologists out there know why, please let me know at the email below.

We have other special birds. For at least the past 10 years, two or three bald eagles show up along Chester Creek each winter. They sit in the tops of the trees along the creek or float on air currents over the former Painted Hills golf course looking for a meal. Some years there are a couple of juveniles alongside the white-headed adults, so many of the neighbors speculate there is a nest tree nearby.

It’s hard to believe that we almost lost this majestic bird. The use of the pesticide DDT, loss of habitat and hunting had reduced the number of birds to such a level that in 1963 there were only 417 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states. The federal government banned the use of DDT in 1972, and in 1973 the birds were listed under the Endangered Species Act, which mandated protection for their habitat including nesting sites and summer and winter roost sites as well as federal penalties for killing and harassing the birds.

The efforts paid off and the bird recovered enough by 2007 that it was removed from the federal list. It was removed from the Washington state list in 2017. The federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor the birds to ensure their recovery continues.

The number of eagles in our region rises dramatically between the end of November and the end of December when they gather to feed on spawning kokanee salmon, particularly around Wolf Lodge Bay on Lake Coeur d’Alene. They gather around the bay watching for a rising fish and then swoop down for a meal. Sometimes two eagles going after the same fish end up in a midair tussle.

As of Dec. 7, 182 adults and 27 juveniles were counted. The count was lower than previous years because of poor visibility. The feeding frenzy will go on into mid-January, and after that the birds will disperse to other areas in preparation for the spring breeding season, which runs from January into the spring depending on weather conditions and food availability.

Eagle pairs often mate for life. A pair will build a 4-foot diameter nest in a tall, stout tree along a long stretch of lakeshore where they can defend it from attack and have a good view for hunting. Generally, the eagle pair will lay two eggs that incubate for 35 to 45 days. Once hatched, the eaglets stay with their parents for about four months learning to fly and hunt before they set out on their own. The juveniles will keep their dark brown color for several years before they gain their white head and tail and begin breeding.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 40 years. She is co-author of Northwest Gardener’s Handbook with Susan Mulvihill. Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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