Eagles make Tahoe home | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Eagles make Tahoe home

Patrick McCartney

A pair of American bald eagles nested at Lake Tahoe last summer and successfully reared the first eaglets to be born in the basin in more than a quarter century, the U.S. Forest Service announced this week.

Bald eagles have been a regular sight at Lake Tahoe in recent winters, attracted by the salmon run at Taylor Creek, but nesting pairs have always been rare here, said wildlife biologist Kathy Campion of the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

“Lake Tahoe has never been a big nesting site,” Campion said. “This is exciting.”

The pair of adult birds, which mate for life, apparently took over an existing osprey nest on the California side of the basin last April, enlarging the structure to make room for a pair of eaglets that hatched 20 to 30 days later. The eaglets were observed for the first time in mid-June, during a Forest Service survey of osprey nests, said biologist Kevin Laves.

By July, Forest Service observers spotted one of the fledglings leave the nest, and the Forest Service later received a report from the public that the second fledgling also had flown the nest.

Campion said it is unclear whether the eagles nested at Lake Tahoe because of competition for nesting sites in other areas was too intense, or simply be a measure of the nationwide increase in the number of bald eagles. After dwindling to alarmingly low population 20 years ago, the country’s national bird has recovered in many areas with the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The successful nesting was the first known to have occurred in the basin since 1970, Laves said. The same pair abandoned a nest in 1971.

Two years ago, biologists were excited by a pair of eagles that nested on the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin. But the pair, which may have been young adults, did not mate successfully, according to wildlife officials. If they had, it would have been big news in Nevada, since the last eagles to successfully hatch in Nevada was 128 years earlier at Pyramid Lake.

With the help of 15 volunteers, the Forest Service completed a survey of eagles in mid-January, but found only seven eagles wintering at the lake. In past years, as many as 18 eagles have been sighted, but biologists suspect stormy weather may have kept some away.

The majestic raptors arrive at Lake Tahoe in the early winter to feed on salmon and trout, and usually return to their summer breeding grounds by March.

But one pair stayed to nest last year at a location the Forest Service intends to keep confidential to prevent the public from disturbing the nesting site.

Laves said the juvenile eagles born last year may have remained in the area this winter.

“We have had observations of several juveniles in the area, so it is possible at least one of them stayed,” he said.

The Forest Service is conducting a six-month study of the eagles’ winter habitat to better understand the connection between wildlife and public recreation.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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