Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
PAHRANAGAT NWR: Flocking to the Eagles
California-Nevada Offices , February 1, 2014
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One of the refuge’s bald eagles scanning the wetlands for prey.
One of the refuge’s bald eagles scanning the wetlands for prey. - Photo Credit: Tim Parker/USFWS
Visitors from the Cambridge Recreation Center in Las Vegas
Visitors from the Cambridge Recreation Center in Las Vegas - Photo Credit: Irma Wynants

By Tim Parker

What would entice over 85 residents of Las Vegas to depart the city and travel north for an hour and forty-five minutes?

Every winter bald eagles migrate from northern latitudes to hunt the waters of Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. While these majestic raptors are becoming common sights in other states, they are still a rare treat for those living near Las Vegas. There may be between 150 to 200 of these eagles in the region, but few places where they can be seen with regularity. Pahranagat NWR is an exception. Beginning in November bald eagles begin to arrive and by mid-December three or four can be spotted daily at the refuge’s Upper Lake.

To educate the public, the refuge held five eagle watches in January. The programs began with a short talk on eagle physiology. With the best distance vision of all species, eagles can spot prey from over a mile away. Their eyes can also see ultra violet light which can help them track mammals by observing urine stains on the ground. Most impressive to visitors was the birds’ strong grip which is ten times that of a human.

With high powered viewing scopes watchers scanned the waters for the unmistakable white heads. At times the birds were a half mile away and at others only 100 yards. For many watchers this was their first time seeing these stately hunters.

Viewing scopes allow observers to see eagles at much greater distances and also benefit the birds. Unwittingly visitors can stress the birds. By directly gazing at them, observers can cause the eagles to take flight and waste energy needed for hunting. Young eagles are particularly sensitive to disturbances due to their yet to be developed fishing skills. To prevent this from happening, participants only viewed the eagles through scopes which kept their faces angled away from the birds.

The eagles will be departing for the north sometime in mid-February, but for the winter season they have been an awe inspiring feature of Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge.

 Tim Parker is in Visitor Services and Environmental Education at Pahranagat and Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuges.


Contact Info: Tim Parker, 775-725-3417 ext.101, timothy_parker@fws.gov
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