Sports might be canceled in the coronavirus age, but at Standley Lake Regional Park and Wildlife Refuge in Westminster, an epic heavyweight bout just took place.
It was a brutal showcase of real life in the Colorado animal kingdom — between three bald eagles.
Standley Lake has been home to nesting bald eagles since 1993 when a first pair settled an estimated 30-feet high in the branches of a Cottonwood tree on the northwest side of the lake. Over the past 72 hours, an HD online live stream video from a camera posted near the nest captured footage that, quite frankly, has stunned park rangers and thousands of viewers.
Starting Monday afternoon, an intruding female bald eagle attacked the nest and appeared to peck at three eggs within. Their status is currently unknown, but the park’s office said the father continued incubation as if the eggs were healthy. Up-close viewing is closed to the public outside of a designated “eagle blind” area roughly a half-mile from the nest, requiring a scope or binoculars.
What happened next further shocked park officials.
On Tuesday morning, a female bald eagle with blood on her and face and talons appeared at the nest and she was not attacked by the father. Park officials initially debated whether the female was the original mother or the intruder. Lexie Martinez, 26, is the park naturalist at Standley Lake. She told The Denver Post on Wednesday afternoon that it is now believed the bloody bird is the intruder.
As Kanye West rapped in a self-titled 2011 single: No church in the wild.
“While it might not happen to every bald eagle nest, it does happen regularly in nature,” Martinez said of the incident, which was caught on video. “Typically, we see a lot of floaters taking over a nest because they lost their own nest, or maybe they lost a mate. This a great deal for this intruder if she comes in and the eggs are already laid and a mate is waiting for her.”
Park officials have since ground searched the area for the original mother, who if injured and alive, likely needs to regain strength through food and rest, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager. She would then be transported for rehabilitation.
Hope exists the injured bald eagle could be isolated in recovery with a chance for a new start. Eagles typically mate with one partner until death or physical separation, Martinez said, and the previous pair had occupied their nest together for 5 years at Standley Lake.
Now, her search for a new mate likely begins.
“We do think mom is young, under 10 years, we suspect,” Martinez said. “They are able to heal.”
Standley Lake Regional Park is mostly closed amid the pandemic, but its public bald eagle viewing area is open with the strict social distancing policies. So, those seeking an in-person look at the bald eagle drama should respect fellow birdwatchers at open parks across the state.
Getting between a mother bald eagle and her eggs has potentially dire consequences.
“The females are bigger than the males and can have up to a 7-and-a-half-foot wingspan,” Martinez said. “(They have) an extremely powerful beak, big feet, talons they use mostly for hunting fish and prairie dogs in our case at the park. I assume it would hurt very badly if you got attacked.”
The positive spin on this tale is the introduction, hopefully, of three new bald eagles into Colorado’s thriving population. There are an estimated several hundred of them currently living across the state, Martinez said, a massive upswing from the handful of bald eagles that populated Colorado in the early 1970s. They were near extinction before the ban of the pesticide DDT.
Bald eagles are not endangered in the U.S. but are federally protected. Continued wildlife conservation efforts ensure Coloradoans have the opportunity to view them for decades to come, even if that means the savage circle of life continues uninterrupted.
“We had a lot of people asking if we were going to intervene,” Martinez said. “Nature needs to take its course.”
Think about it this way: Is a significant other driving you crazy during Colorado’s quarantine?
Try being a bald eagle.
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