DOW monitors bald eagle chicks nesting along Yampa

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— A climber scaled 50 feet up the branches of a tree to remove two bald eagle chicks from their nest over the weekend so local Division of Wildlife officials could put tags on the birds.

For the last few years, the DOW has put identification bands on chicks from this particular nest, located by the Yampa River near Milner, where two adult eagles live year round.

Max Graham and his family own the land that the nest is on and he welcomes the experience.

"We've been watching these two particular birds for three years," Graham said.

Friends, family and a local Boy Scout troop were on hand Saturday to watch the tagging process. Once the chicks were on the ground, the group was able to take a closer look and even pet the birds.

The eagles were weighed and their beaks and wing feathers were measured.

"It's basic management information," DOW area manger Jim Haskins said.

There is a growing population of bald eagles that live at least part of the year in the Yampa Valley, many of which have the identification bands.

"We have been banding bald eagles for several years," Haskins said.

Last year, the bald eagle was taken off the federal threatened list because the bird has made a strong comeback in the past two decades.

When Haskins began with the DOW in 1980, one bald eagle nest on the Little Snake River was the only known active nest in the state. Now, there are 25 active nests in Colorado.

In the Yampa, Little Snake and Green River basins, there could be as many as 10 nests, Haskins said.

"Basically, eagle populations have rebounded all over," he said.

The bird's comeback can be largely credited to boycotts on certain pesticides, particularly DDT, a chemical that softens bird eggs, which threatens the life of the chicks, Haskins said.

Bald eagle populations sharply increased soon after DDT was banned, because "most watershed areas cleaned up fast," said Judy Scherpelz, director of the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program at Colorado State University.

Federal limitations on the use of lead shot for bird hunting also have been a factor in the growth of eagle populations. One pellet of lead shot ingested by a bald eagle is enough to kill or debilitate the bird, Scherpelz said.

Though lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting, lead pellets in the water and ground can still be found in areas where hunting waterfowl has been going on for years.

"Lead poisoning is and will continue to be a big issue," Scherpelz said.

Though lead still can pose a threat, Haskins said the Yampa River corridor is prime habitat for bald eagles. At least five nests have been found on the river between the Steamboat area and Craig.

In the winter, the populations increase. Eagles from the north migrate to the Yampa Valley to spend the cold months here because the river doesn't completely freeze over, Haskins said.

The river is a key habitat for the bald eagles. They nest near the water and primarily feed on fish and ducks. Tuesday, Graham watched the eagles on his land feed on a beaver carcass.

"It was really something," he said.

The eagles that were tagged will be monitored periodically by the DOW. Graham and his family, though, will keep a good watch on them all the time.

"We're very attached to them," he said.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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