Bald eagle population soaring

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— The official symbol of the United States of America is thriving in Colorado, especially in the Yampa Valley.

Colorado Division of Wildlife officials spent the past two days tagging baby bald eagles in some of Routt County's eight known active nests. It's a bigger job than it was 26 years ago.

When District Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins came to the area in 1980, there was only one active nest. In the late 1970s, when the bald eagle was added to the endangered species list, there was only one known active nest in all of Colorado.

The bald eagle since has become the poster child for what some say is the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, which was established in 1973. The national bird was reclassified as endangered in 1995, partly because of a ban of toxic chemicals that were causing the walls of the eagle's eggs to thin.

"In the past 20 or 25 years, we've increased substantially," Brent Bibles said.

In addition to being a raptor biologist with the DOW, Bibles is an expert tree climber. It's a necessary skill in his field, which requires him to climb the large cottonwood trees in which the eagles nest.

There now are about 65 known active nests in the state, said Bibles, who is based out of the DOW's Fort Collins office.

"And we're finding a couple new ones every year," he said. Bibles said Routt County's bald eagle population is so successful because of the abundance of fresh water and the aquatic animals on which the birds feed.

To help monitor the bald eagle population and track the birds' migration patterns, DOW officials placed identification tags on three baby eagles in the past two days.

At a nest at a ranch just east of Hayden, Bibles rigged a climbing rope over a cottonwood tree limb near the nest. Adult male and female eagles circled overhead as Bibles climbed the tree to the large nest holding the baby.

"There is one, and he's not very happy to see me," Bibles said after reaching the nest.

Based on the baby's size, it was estimated to be 55 days old. Although the eagle flapped its wings, it will be another three weeks before it can fly.

After placing the eagle in a bag, Bibles lowered it to Haskins and Susan Werner, DOW supervisor for Routt and Jackson counties.

Werner clamped tags around each of the eagle's ankles, documented its weight, checked its condition and took measurements. Haskins held the eagle and tried his best to stay clear of its talons.

"He had a pretty good hold on my leg and took a little skin, but they're nothing like the adults," Haskins said.

-- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com.

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