Southland takes eagle family under its wings
By DONNA VICKROY email@example.com September 3, 2012 11:52AM
A family of bald eagles has made a home in 2012 in the Cook County forest preserves in Palos Township, Ill. | Supplied photo
Jim Phillips said the best place to spot one of two adult eagles and at least one eaglet is at Saganashkee Slough. Park in the west or middle lot off 107th Street. Bring bincoculars.
Updated: October 5, 2012 6:03AM
Thanks to the cooperation of people across the Southland, a pair of eagles has become a family, with at least one eaglet and possibly two now calling the Palos Township forest preserve area home.
“People have been so excited about these birds,” said Jim Phillips, fisheries biologist for the Cook County Forest Preserve District. “Eagles are inspiring to people.”
Since the public announcement in April that a pair of bald eagles was nesting along the banks of Tampier Slough for the first time in many decades, Phillips said, bird watchers and nature fans have been coming out in droves to have a look.
“I actually recognize many people because they’ve come back so many times,” Phillips said.
More important, they’ve kept their distance and minded their manners, abiding by federal laws and forest preserve recommendations to not disturb the birds of prey.
As a result, Phillips said, at least one baby, possibly two, have fledged and are now flying around the area with th parents.
“It’s hard to spot the young because they’re all black,” Phillips said.
It won’t be until they’re 5 years old that they’ll sport the bright white head and feather tips, he said.
But there are ways you can spot them, if you’re diligent and if you’re lucky.
“They’re often mistaken for turkey vultures,” Phillips said. But turkey vultures’ wings form a v-shape when in flight. Eagles’ wings are like a plank in flight, straight across, he said.
Phillips said the eagle family has been spied at Tampier Slough, Saganashkee Slough and McGinnis Slough, which was recently drained to open up mud flats for birds now migrating from the Arctic to Argentina.
“So while you’re out looking for the eagles, you can see a whole bunch of other interesting birds,” he said. Among the 13 to 15 different kinds of shore birds now resting en route to a warmer clime are solitary sandpipers, long-billed dowagers and greater yellowlegs.
End of summer and early fall are great times for bird watching, he said. Plus, you get the added benefit of watching leaves change color.
The eagles’ nest is still located in a cottonwood tree on the banks of Tampier Slough. Phillips said the parents will likely return to it this winter to lay more eggs, although there is a chance they may build a new nest and travel between the two.
He also said once grown, eaglets tend to return to the area where they were born to breed, meaning the Southland could become an eagle habitat once again.
Eagles, he said, look for places where food is plentiful and where dangers, which come mostly at the hands of humans, are minimal.
Eagles feed predominantly on fish, although Phillips said they will go after muskrat and ducks, as well as dead animals found along the shoreline. There is plenty of food for them in this area.
And, by all accounts, people are doing their best to welcome them by staying out of their way.
Bald and golden eagles are federally protected. Harassment of one of the birds can result in steep fines and imprisonment.