Beginning in late October, migrant Bald Eagles typically begin appearing at Quivira from points north. They can be seen anywhere at the Refuge, but are particularly fond of Big and Little Salt Marshes, respectively. A majority are in various stages of juvenile plumages: mostly brown, with varying amounts of white throughout the plumage. Bald Eagles take five years to attain full adult plumage (i.e. white head and tail, solid brown body and wings). Peak numbers usually occur in early-to-mid-December, with upwards of 200 or more possible Refuge-wide. Numbers of wintering eagles then taper off through the rest of the winter, and by March they are more difficult to find.
A common winter scene at Quivira: a cluster of juvenile Bald Eagles.
Prior to 2009, the closest known nest to Quivira had been an active pair south of the town of Stafford. From 2009 onward, there has been active nesting activity by one pair of adults. Below is the time-line of that nest:
A pair of adult Bald Eagles built a nest in a row of cottonwood trees south of Big Salt Marsh. This is the South BSM nest, located about 1/3-mile north of the "Artesian Well" pulloff along the NE 140th Street blacktop. No eggs or young were produced that year.
The nest shortly after first discovered in 2009
Nest activity began being observed in January 2010 at the South BSM site. By early April, one hatchling could be seen being tended by parents. By early summer, it was clear that two young birds were in the nest, being tended by parents. Both birds had fledged by mid-July. Occasionally through the summer and fall an adult or juvenile was seen perched at or near the nest.
Juvenile Bald Eagle photographed in July 2010, shortly after fledging from nest.
Additional note: this nest is visible from the NE 140th Street blacktop. During most of the year, a zone around this nest is closed to public entry (complete with signs) to protect the eagles.
Nest activity was again observed beginning in January 2011 at South BSM. At least one juvenile was observed at the nest in early summer, being tended by parents. A second juvenile was believed to be in the nest, but was never confirmed. No birds were in the nest by mid-July, but fledged young were never seen. Refuge staff believes that the young bird(s) fledged then quickly left the area, along with the adults. Big Salt Marsh, the nearest large body of water (and food source), was completely dry by mid-summer.
Eagle nest photographed on April 16, 2012, two days after the tornado.
Two adults on nest on 20 January 2013
During December of 2013, a pair of Bald Eagles began building a nest southeast of the Wildlife Drive, just off the northeast corner of Big Salt Marsh. This nest, Unit 58 Nest, is about 1.5 miles northeast of the old nest at South BSM. Although the old eagle nest was intact, its use by eagles was almost nil during the same period. As of the first of the year 2014, a pair of eagles was observed on or near the new nest on a regular basis. At first the refuge staff was uncertain whether this was the original nesting pair building a new nest, or a new nesting pair. Ongoing observations revealed it most likely to be the original pair (although impossible to prove), due to the lack of activity at the old nest. However, a long period of high winds (estimated sustained at 30-40 mph with gusts) on January 16 blew away all but a few sticks of this new nest. Over the next week, the eagles rebuilt this new nest. Beginning February 22, an adult was seen sitting on the nest and presumed to be incubating eggs. Beginning around the end of the first week of April, activity at the nest suggested the eggs may have hatched. By April 11, refuge staff confirmed that incubating was no longer occurring, and that food being brought in to the nest was being eaten and handled by standing birds (although no young could be seen at that point).
Tragically, high (40+ mph) sustained winds, beginning on Sunday, April 26, destroyed the Unit 58 nest by blowing it completely out of the tree. The adults were observed alive and well on April 28, but a ground search by refuge staff in the nest tree area revealed not only all of the nest components, but also one dead eaglet. It is not known whether more than one eaglet was in the nest prior to its destruction. Throughout the summer, one or two adult eagles were seen sporadically around Quivira, including two adults observed sitting in the Unit 58 nest tree on August 18.
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The tallest North American bird, and one of the rarest: now numbering about 600 in the world, there were once as few as 16.