The locally famous pair of Llano Bald Eagles returned to their winter nest this fall and two eggs have recently hatched. Texas Parks and Wildlife specialist Dale Schmidt has followed their activity since 2004. He commented, “The bald eagle pair returned to the nest site on October 1, 2011, and started repairing and improving the nest that they used last year. Starting in mid-November and into December it appeared that the pair was sitting on an unknown number of eggs. On or about December 18, activity picked up with the adults bringing food to the nest. This indicated that at least one egg had hatched. On January 3rd I got a good look into the nest and there are two eaglets. With the hatch date of Dec. 18, the eaglets will fledge from the nest around the 1st of March. Soon they should be large enough to be seen from the road.” Now that the eaglets have hatched they will demand constant food, so eagle watching will be good since the parents will stay close to the nest. Schmidt says that mornings are a good time to see the pair in action because the light is best.
Schmidt will be giving a “Bald Eagles of Llano County” presentation at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area on Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. For more information, go to http://www.friendsofenchantedrock.com/calendar.
Wildlife observer Mike Leggett of the Austin American Statesman made a movie of last year’s offspring from the famous pair that can be seen at www.statesman.com/sports/outdoors/eagles-alive-and-well-on-llano. Leggett stated, “Without a doubt, this nest is the best close-up viewing opportunity in Texas. You don’t even need binoculars, though they enhance the experience.” These local stars were also featured in February 2010 Southern Living magazine.
It is common for eagles to nest within a mile of a water source, but the proximity of the Llano nest to a busy highway is unique. It is little more than 100 yards off Highway 29 and the birds are extremely tolerant of spectators. There are even a few eagle interlopers that swoop down the river from time to time, Schmidt says, something the adults do not like. “You have to stay in your own territory so they’ll chase off any other eagle that flies by.” Bald eagles mate for life, so the birds on the Llano River nest have their routine down pat by now. They are at least five years old before they reach sexual maturity, and this pair has returned to this Llano spot since 2004. In the wild, their life span is 20-30 years.
The Llano eagle pair had a unique social arrangement for several years, allowing a second female to join them in the nest, but she hasn’t been seen since 2007.
In 2010 the pair abandoned the old nest and made a new one in a tree just west of the old one, which was used from 2004 through 2009, and it can still be seen from the road. Schmidt says eagle’s nest can reach a weight of 800 pounds. Heavy rains can add to the weight since mud is used for the base, which is lined with twigs, moss and grasses. When a nest falls a new one is generally built nearby and is on average five feet across and two feet tall.
When asked how far the eagles might migrate, Schmidt told me about a Parks and Wildlife banding program in the early 1990’s. Colored bands were put on several eagles with the US Fish and Wildlife Service phone number on them. Texas eagles were recorded in Arizona, Canada and North Carolina. They return to the same area but not their birth nest. Although they have dedicated and nurturing parents when they are young, if these eaglets try to return to the nest their parents will chase them away. I guess this could be the original “tough love” treatment…perhaps humans could learn something from our feathered friends about children returning to the nest.
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. Because of their size they have few predators, their worst enemies being guns, power lines, windmills, starvation and poisons.
If you visit the Bald Eagles on Highway 29, it would be best to leave your pet gerbil at home. 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. An eagle can identify a rabbit moving almost a mile away, or flying at an altitude of 1000 feet over open country could spot prey over an area of almost three square miles from a fixed position. 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. 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.
Check out the Llano County Bald Eagle nest, then finish off a perfect Hill Country outing by dining at Tamale King on the way home at 15405 E. Hwy. 29. The always full parking lot attests to the quality of their friendly service and delicious Tex Mex fare. Their Margaritas aren’t bad either.