It has been observed that Bald Eagles are dedicated and nurturing parents when their babies are young. However, if the eaglets try to return to the nest on a permanent basis, the parents push them away…and we humans thought we invented “tough love”! Our famous Llano eagle pair returned to their winter home by the Llano River and less than 150 yards from the highway. They have raised two babies this season and the eaglets will soon be leaving the nest, says Wildlife Technician Dale Schmidt of Texas Parks and Wildlife. So grab your binoculars and camera and hurry to the nest. If you have an unlucky day and miss the birds, just have a tamale and a beer at nearby Tamale King and try another sighting on the way home.
Schmidt says that morning is the best time to see activity around the nest and for photographic light, but in these last weeks before the eaglets take flight you will probably see either adults, eaglets or both at other times of the day. I went last week in mid afternoon and there was one adult hanging out in a tree near the nest and one hunting across the road. Two eaglet heads were clearly visible peeping over the nest and they were faced toward the highway rather than the river behind them, maybe watching for their dinner delivery.
Through the years the Llano County eagle nest has become a social gathering, and the day I was there we visited with a couple from Round Rock who were fully equipped with lawn chairs and binoculars. They said seen one of the adults bring a rattlesnake to the nest. My husband Bob and I once saw one of the parents bring a large fish to the nest, its regal head bobbing up and down as its fluffy grey offspring devoured the food.
Schmidt has been watching the Llano County eagle nest since 2003. He explained that when the nest first came into view from the highway word spread and several newspapers, including the Austin American Statesman, covered the story. The Texas Department of Transportation built a safe pull off area in response to the thousands of bird watchers that came as a result of the news blitz. Schmidt said that the original nest was on the opposite shore of the river and it fell down, perhaps because of its size. Schmidt estimates the diameter of the next Llano nest reached about eight feet, but this year the adult pair have moved to a new nest in the same area. You can still see it from the highway, and the parking area has been moved several yards for easier viewing.
After several seasons of eaglets hatching in a nest and the adults rebuilding it in subsequent years, a nest can reach a weight over 800 pounds. A heavy rain can add to the nest’s weight since mud is used for the base, which is lined with twigs, moss and grasses. When a nest falls the new nest is generally rebuilt close by, and is on average five feet across and two feet tall. The nest support of choice is a sturdy tall tree within a mile of a water source. In previous years three adults appeared in the nest, two of them female, and they all fed and raised the babies. Schmidt says this is highly unusual since the birds are generally very territorial. The second female was last seen in January 2007.
Eaglets grow rapidly but it takes four to five years before their head turns white. They will be full grown at twelve weeks, and this year’s offspring will start fledging (testing their wings) around the first week in March. They will stay in the area for a few weeks and you may still see them on the nest occasionally, before they head north.
Eagles mate for life and can live thirty years, but the average life span is 15 to 20 years.
An eagle’s eyesight is four times more acute than a person with 20/20 vision. They can see both forward and to the side at the same time. They can see fish in the water from a height of several hundred feet, and can identify a rabbit moving almost a mile away. Flying at an altitude of 1000 feet over open country, an eagle can spot prey over an area of almost three square miles. A mature eagle can lift objects up to four pounds and their diving speed is estimated at 75 to 100 miles per hour. They can fly to altitudes of 10,000 feet or more and soar aloft for hours, using natural wind currents and thermal updrafts.
The Bald Eagle was listed as Endangered in most of the U.S. from 1967 to 1995, when the nesting pairs had increased from 500 to 10,000. The primary law protecting Bald Eagles has shifted from the Endangered Spies Act to the Bald and Golden Eagle Act. The Act provides criminal penalties for persons taking, possessing or selling any part of an eagle or its nest, including feathers. They have few predators, their worst enemies being objects power lines, windmills and starvation.
Watching these proud birds soar through the air leaves no doubt as to why the United States Second Continental Congress officially declared the Bald Eagle as our country’s National Emblem in 1782. John F. Kennedy stated, “The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America.”
Driving directions to Llano County Eagle Nest from Llano: Take Hwy 29 east approximately 9 miles. The eagle nest will be on your right side.