The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Department (EPNR) and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGF) teamed up to tag eaglets nesting on the Community in early March.
Each year the two departments join forces as AZGF staff band the four- to six-week-old eaglets, assess their health status, and to remove any hazardous objects in their nests.
The staff of EPNR and three AZGF employees met at one of the nest locations on the Community to begin the banding. AZGF Eagle Management Coordinator Kenneth Jacobson, who is also a professional climber, came with equipment in hand to climb the 40 feet to retrieve the eaglets from their nest. While he was high in the air, he would send them down to the other two staff members, who performed an assessment on each of the eaglets and tagged them with an ID band.
“When they are brought down, we complete an assessment on the eaglets. While we are up in the tree we remove hazardous objects that may have been brought in by the eagles after fishing, such as fish hooks, and remove all foreign objects,” said AZGF Bald Eagle Field Projects Coordinator Kyle McCarty.
As the staff approached one cottonwood tree where a nest was located, the mother and father eagles flew out of the tree, screeching.
During the banding process, “The adults will leave the nest and are very angry about it. They will either fly around or go down to the river to another nest where they go to fish,” said EPNR Senior Environmental Specialist Brian Gewecke. “The adult eagles down by the river will fly around and squeal at you when their babies are getting tagged.”
However, the adult eagles did not leave this time, instead keeping a watchful eye on the young eaglets.
Community members Jeremy Phillips, EPNR senior environmental specialist, and Video Production Technician Darren Harris held the birds as AZGF staff measured their talons and bills and recorded their weight.
“We took leg measurements, [which help us] tell the sex of the bird. Both of the birds were females, both very healthy. One was about 7 or 8 pounds, and the other one was 9 pounds. By the time they are ready to leave the nest, they will be as big as the adults,” said McCarty. “Generally, females are 10 or 11 pounds and the males are much smaller, about 7 or 8 pounds. We try to band as many of the young as we can, to identify where they come from [and] how old they are; we get a lot of information from the band when we find the eagle again after it grows up and starts its own breading areas.”
There are currently 62 eagle breeding areas here in Arizona, most along the lower Verde and Salt rivers. AZGF tags the eaglets because it is a small population and they want to protect the birds and do everything they can to help them be successful.
In the last three years, one of the eagle nests has been infested with ticks; eaglets were dying because they would get so many tick bites that they would die from anemia. When the chicks were banded they were treated for ticks, but it eventually wore off, they started jumping out of the nest to avoid the ticks. Two of [the eaglets] did not survive; the one that survived was taken to Liberty Wildlife, and in one cleaning session they pulled 258 ticks off of it. The next day the little ticks they missed got bigger overnight and they pulled off another 130 ticks; the bird survived.
Eagles start flying when they are 10 to 12 weeks old; they will hang around the area for about a month and a half after they leave the nest to learn to be independent. When they’re ready to go, they head north for the summer and they come back in the fall.
“The adults don’t go that far,” said McCarty. “We think they stay local year round. Eagles are very faithful to their sites (nests) and to their mates; the male at this location has been the same male since he started this nest a few years ago. We banded him over by another nest near the Salt River and Verde rivers in 2003.”
“They live for a very long time, so they come back; we have one male over at Lake Pleasant that’s 25 years old—he was born in 1986—and a female that was born in 1987,” explained AZGF intern Megan Duggan. “They are as old as I am. We try to read the bands every year so we know who is where.”
There are three eagle nests in the Community. EPNR is currently researching the viability of a new wetlands site where they could increase the fish supply and plant new cottonwood trees on tribal land for the eagles to nest in.
“If we can increase the amount of food on this land, we could possibly increase the number of eagles that come here,” said Gewecke. “They always have to nest close to water because 80 percent of their diet is made up of fish. Eagles that nest in Arizona nest in tall trees such as cottonwood trees and pine trees, and near the lakes some of those eagles live on cliffs. They like to have a couple of things in their home: they like to have a view and they like to have a space where they can take flight and fly into their nest.”
Although the desert nesting bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007, it remains protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These laws prohibit the possession, use and sale of eagle feathers and parts as well as number of other activities, so it is important for people to stay away from the nests. Gewecke said eagles have abandoned one nest on the Community where people had come too close.
Editor’s note: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the religious and cultural significance of the eagles to Native Americans and offers permits for feathers for religious use. In an upcoming issue of Au-Authm Action News, we will feature a story explaining the process to obtain a permit.
How can we help these eagles? Here are a few things everyone needs to know:
• If you are close enough to see the bald eagles without binoculars, YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!
• Each eagle nest has a different “safe zone,” within which the eagles feel safe from intruders. Eagles in very remote areas will be disturbed if you come within a half-mile of their nest. The eagle nest on the Community has a different safe zone that’s a little smaller. These eagles are used to seeing people and aren’t disturbed unless you come too close. Stay at least 1,000 feet away from this nest. If you’re driving by on the road and see the eagles, as long as you keep moving the eagles seem to not be afraid or disturbed. But if you stop the car, the eagles will be disturbed.
• If you see anyone disturbing an eagle nest, please call the Salt River Police Department at (480) 850-9230.