January is National Bald Eagle Watch Month. An intricate part of Native American spiritualism, and included in symbols such as scouting and our nation’s presidential seal, the bald eagle inspires us to greater heights. If you’re like me, when you encounter or hear these powerful birds, you pause to appreciate the moment.
Did you know that the classic eagle’s piercing scream that we hear in movies and on TV isn’t accurate? The eagle actually has a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. Hollywood dubs a red-tailed hawk’s screech over the bald eagle’s weaker scream to make the eagle sound more impressive.
There are plenty of legitimate eagle characteristics that impress me, including the size of eagles’ nests. One near St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the Guinness World Record for largest bird’s nest: 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide. The nest, measured in 1963, weighed over two tons.
There are three eagles nests that I like to check on. The first, in northern Wisconsin, is one my husband showed me on our honeymoon 43 years ago. We checked on it recently and were pleased to see it’s still active. An eagle’s average life span is 15-30 years, so it’s possible a relative of the original pair has taken over the nest.
The second nest I watch is one my brother and sister-in-law discovered on Minocqua Lake. It’s always a thrill to boat near it and try to spot one of the adults or youngsters in the top of the huge white pine that hugs the shoreline.
The third nest is only a few miles from my home, at Riverwood Condominiums in the Dells. This past year workers sensitively fenced off a large area surrounding the nest before they began construction of the Riverwood Eagle’s Nest Senior Living facility. Hopefully the pair that returns to nest at the site each spring will come back. They have an ideal location since they’re next to the Wisconsin River with its plentiful supply of turtles and fish.
I enjoy following eagle nesting and chick-raising via webcams. The Decorah-Iowa “nest-flix” is popular and worth checking out. My sister-in-law showed me a hilarious segment. Search for “DM2 and the Floppy Fish!”
Actual encounters with eagles are memorable. My husband tells the story of seeing an osprey dive at an eagle. The eagle rolled over, talons up. They were descending toward the branches of a tree. Both managed, a millisecond before crashing, to pull away. They flew their separate ways, their dispute forgotten.
Similarly, I once drove to Baraboo on County Road A on a blustery cold day and saw five eagles feasting on a deer carcass alongside several crows. These two creatures, normally enemies, put aside their differences and shared a meal together.
One of the most extraordinary eagle encounters I had was the day I was fishing in Canada and met the bald eagle Martha. Our experienced guide took my husband and me and his golden retriever fishing for walleye on a remote lake. The guide pulled in a Northern and an eagle immediately flew out of the trees, startling me.
“That’s Martha,” our guide said. “She knows if I get a Northern, she can have it.”
“She recognizes you?”
“Actually, it’s the dog. The times I don’t bring him, she doesn’t come.”
For fun, I’d like to keep track of how many bald eagles I see this month. Sauk Prairie’s Eagle Days, Jan. 15-16, will be virtual this year. It’s worth tuning in, but I also want to spend a day hiking on the excellent Sauk-Prairie trail that hugs the Wisconsin River and see the eagles in person. I’ll choose a day when the sky is winter blue to get the full effect of spectacular views of our national bird, a symbol of courage, resilience, and hope.