Grand Tetons Bald Eagles

We sat in our kayaks and canoes on Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park and watched this eagle eating a fish for at least fifteen minutes one morning in 2003. No other people could have watched this from shore as we were in behind a couple of islands. Other birds were darting in and sometimes getting a few bits. (Two pictures below by Wendy Sato).

eagle on land by Wendy Sato: eagle flying by Wendy Sato:

these pictures are from a video we shot:

eagle eating five: eagle eating 3: eagle eating four: eagle eating 2: bald eagle eating 1:

Was it the same eagle we saw the next year, while otters stole his fish?

Out on Oxbow Bend we saw a Bald Eagle on shore:

Eagle on shore long distance:

Without binoculars we could see otters climbing up the shore around the Eagle (look at shore edge to the left of the Eagle in the picture below). I thought, I bet he’s got a fish. Shortly the otters stole the fish from the eagle and he flew to a snag on another island across the water.

Eagle otters closer:

Sylvia Gallegos photographing Bald Eagle on snag: bald eagle Tetons as seen from kayak:

The otters swam around and ate the fish.

otters and Mount Moran: otter eating fish:

I saw a few cars stopped along the main road and people clustered looking out on the water. I looked with binoculars to see if they had spotted wildlife we had not, but it turned out they were watching us to see what we had found.

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Along with fish caught swimming near the surface, eagles dine on small mammals, waterfowl, wading birds,
and carrion (dead animal matter).

Eagles call with a piercing scream or various chirps and squawks.

The bald eagle can fly 20-40 mph in normal flight
and can dive at speeds over 100 mph.

Their visual acuity is four to eight times greater than a human.

They nest in large trees close to the water, a few dozen in the Teton/Yellowstone area. Nests can be as big as 7 to 10 feet across, three feet deep and weighing almost a half ton. Sometimes they use the same nest year after year,
adding more twigs and branches each season until the tree becomes unstable.
A record eagle nest, used for 34 years, weighed more than two tons.

They form long term bonds with mates and both incubate the eggs. Eggs are laid from February to mid March, and hatch in 34 to 36 days. The chicks can fly from the nest when 10 to 14 weeks old.

Females are larger than males. The male dive bombs the female during their courtship flight, they meet in mid air, lock talons and plummet down, breaking out seemingly at the last second.

The bald in their name is not meant to mean featherless. It’s a derivation of balde, an Old English word meaning white. The white head appears at about four to five years of age.

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From an early June Tetons park news release about a road closure to protect a nest:

“Bald eagles mate for life and can live to age 30 in the wild. After breeding in late February, they lay from one to three eggs that hatch between late April and early June. Young eaglets begin to disperse from their nest site in late summer.

The bald eagle is protected by the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act. Bald eagles were placed on the Threatened and Endangered Species list in 1978 as an endangered species, after their numbers dropped to fewer than 500 pairs. In 1995, they were upgraded to threatened status, as populations recovered from the brink of extinction.

Bald eagles are sensitive to a variety of human activities and may avoid areas where they encounter humans. They sometimes move away from people or even abandon nest areas, resulting in reproductive failure or the death of newly hatched eaglets. Even the cumulative effects of many seemingly insignificant activities may result in disruption of normal eagle behavior.

Although the bald eagle is making a gradual comeback, it is imperative that visitors give this rare and sensitive species the space it needs to survive. Local residents and park visitors can help reduce negative impacts to these nesting eagles by respecting the posted area closure. Violators of the temporary closure may be cited and fined.
The closure will be lifted by early to mid August, after the young eaglets fledge and are longer dependent upon the nest area.

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Pictures and info about visitor centers, Cunningham Cabin, Menor’s Ferry, Chapel of the Transfiguration, Cascade Canyon, Signal Mountain summit road, Colter Bay Indian Arts Museum, Morman Row and the Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway are at: Grand Tetons sightseeing

Grand Tetons September 2004 and Grand Tetons kayaking have more Oxbow Bend kayaking pictures.

The main trip information page is at Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons recommended reading has links to on-line bird and mammal field guides, as well as books to buy or check out from the library before the trip

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park photos