by Peter Bodley
A pair of bald eagles are nesting within the sights and sounds of Highway 10 in Coon Rapids.
The nest is in the crook of a cottonwood tree on city of Coon Rapids wetland property on the north side of the freeway between Hanson and Coon Creek boulevards.
According to Dave Full, project manager, city engineering department, the eagles were first noticed building their nest in December 2010.
They have been seen flying around in the area since then, Full said.
It is not unusual for bald eagles to nest in Coon Rapids, nor close to a busy road, he said.
But Full said he has been in contact with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is considering placing signs asking people to stay back at least 300 feet from the tree.
According to Full, the nest comprises mostly branches and weeds.
But the tree branches can be as big as two to three feet wide and four to five feet long, which the birds wedge into place and build up, then put weeds in as a cushion, Full said.
The eagles are likely feeding on dead animals or other birds, for example, the large goose population in Coon Rapids.
Indeed, two bald eagles were seen recently in Andover just north of Coon Rapids feeding off a deer carcass.
But bald eagles near bodies of water will go after fish, Full said.
According to Mags Rheude, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Twin Cities office in Bloomington, a pair of eagles will hatch two birds each year on average, sometimes one or as many as four.
And a pair of eagles will often have more than one nest within a territory covering one or two miles to warn off other eagles, Rheude said.
“They might use one nest one year and another one the next year,” she said.
Rheude also described bald eagles as “opportunistic” birds; if they find a nest unoccupied they will take it over, she said.
The bald eagle was selected as the country’s national bird in 1782, but neglect over many years led it to become an endangered species.
But, according to the state DNR website, the eventual recovery of the bald eagle has become a conservation success story.
Indeed, the dramatic increase in the number of bald eagles led to the federal delisting of the bird in 2007.
In 2007, the DNR estimated that the Minnesota population of bald eagles was more than 2,300 pairs and the DNR’s nongame wildlife program spends about $50,000 per year on bald eagle conservation efforts.
That was the last year the DNR did a count of bald eagles in Minnesota, according to Rheude.
“Bald eagles are doing really well in Minnesota,” Rheude said.
Peter Bodley is at email@example.com