UNDER THE SUN | SteamboatToday.com


The Eagles have landed

It is winter in the Yampa Valley: subzero temperatures, fog shrouding the Yampa River along Colorado 131, bare cottonwoods with equally bare nests.

Ducks and fishermen are common sights in the Yampa and Elk rivers.

More wondrous is the occasional reflecting white head of the mature bald eagle perched in the stark cottonwoods.

The lack of foliage during winter months facilitates such sightings inspiring delight in the viewer.

Bald eagles are the only eagle unique to the North America and numbers once reached 500,000.

Unfortunately, bald eagle numbers went into significant decline, attributed to several factors, such as human settlement and habitat encroachment.

In 1940 of the Bald Eagle Act was passed, the first of many acts designed to protect the eagles. In 1976, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bird as “endangered.”

That status was upgraded to “threatened” in 1994; the bald eagle retains the “threatened” designation today.

Today, 50,000 bald eagles live in the United States and an upwards of 1,200 birds migrate to Colorado during the winter months.

Moreover, there are 51 known nesting pairs in the state. This is remarkable considering only two pairs of breeding eagles were known to be in Colorado in the mid-’70s.

This year Coloradans and the Colorado Division of Wildlife spent the morning of Jan. 11 participating in the mid-winter bald eagle survey a nationwide eagle count coordinated by the USGS’ Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center’s Snake River Field Station.

Although numbers are not yet available, a Yampa Valley crew reported fewer sightings than last year, likely because of the mild winter experienced in the northern climes thus far.

But there are a number of bald eagle nests in and around the Yampa Valley.

A discerning eye can locate bald eagles on fence posts, electric poles or perched in cottonwoods near the Yampa and Elk rivers.

Along Colo. 131, pay particular attention to the cottonwoods about three miles north of Yampa and the large cottonwoods just south of mile marker 65 on Colo. 131.

Farther west, it is often possible to view the birds along the Yampa River between Mount Harris and the Moffat County line.

If you find yourself on Colo. 13 south of Craig, keep alert as you approach the Trapper Mine entrance; there often are eagles in the area.

In addition, the lower Elk River has a resident eagle. Take U.S. 40 west until you reach County Road 44. Once on C.R. 44, look for the bird in the big trees and/or on fence posts in those first few miles along the Elk River.

Bald eagles are very aware of and sensitive to human presence.

Please do not attempt to approach or otherwise disturb the birds.

As in all wildlife encounters, be aware of the potential consequences your actions have on the animals.

For more information on wildlife watching opportunities, please call 870-2197.

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