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Saw God in the Nest

Not the typical birdies at Valley golf course

SONJA HALLER THE REPUBLIC | AZCENTRAL.COM

Wealthy retirees, golf lovers and now a family of bald eagles have chosen the green oasis of a Scottsdale golf course to call home. ¶ High in a tree, a couple of bald eagles and two hatchlings are nesting amid whizzing golf carts. ¶ The massive nest, which can be seen from outside the gated golf course, has brought out amateur photographers and onlookers almost daily. ¶ “Those birds have blown my mind,” said Kenneth Jacobson, the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s bald-eagle management coordinator. “They are highly tolerant. There’s a lot of activity over several hours. In fact, they didn’t even bother to look down on us as we talked beneaththeir tree. Anywhere else in the state, it would be something much different.”

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The birds likely chose to nest on the lush greenery of the course, which features a lake with their primary food of fish, because the species’ presence in Arizona has been increasing. The birds, which might have been nesting along the lower Salt and Verde rivers, could have needed room to spread their wings, Jacobsonsaid. Last year set breeding records, with 66 young bald eagles making their first flight from 89 eggs laid, an increase from the previous record of 58 setin 2013. There are a recorded 59 breeding pairs today, compared with 11 pairs in 1978. The hope is that 2016 will be another banneryear. Bald eagles have been in the Scottsdale area for at least five years, but this is the first time they’ve chosen to nest, Jacobsonsaid. The two 6-week-old nestlings will be flying inanother four weeks. This is a crucial time for the birds, he said. If the parents become disturbed, they could abandon the nest.

For that reason, The Arizona Republic is not publishing the exact locationof the golf course.

Keeping tabs on the birds at a distance

Joe Miller, the lead volunteer for rehabbing bald eagles for Scottsdalebased Liberty Wildlife, has been offering regular reports to Game and Fish since the building of the nest over the winter. He uses a spotting scope to keep tabs on the birds.

“They’ve done a good job of picking out the tree inside the city where they are protected by a golfcourse fence and a larger outside fence. Plus, if you were to walk across the street, a big tree blocks (the nest) view,” Millersaid. “These birds,” he added, “appear somewhat desensitized to traffic all day, every day. Everyone’s been responsible,and we hope that it stays that way.”

A sign on the golf course alerts golfers not to disturb the eagle’s nest.

It takes nine weeks for the eaglets to grow to full size, and they assume the appearance of the older bald eagles, with the unmistakable white head and yellow beak, in another few years. They will remain in the nest for about 45 days.

The birds are expected to leave the nest in late June, bound for lower temperatures to the north.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department protects bald eagles through the coordinated efforts of theSouthwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee. The committee, formed in 1984, is composed of federal, state, tribal and private groups to support the long-term conservation of the species.

Game and Fish oversees the Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch, which monitors breeding bald eagles and reports the number of successful offspring flights.

If this pair of eagles successfully see their young out of the nest, they could return to the area next year.

The birds likely live off the pond fish, waterfowl and small critters. One of the pair also was seen flyingoverhead with a snakein its talons. The striking features and the size of the birds are showstoppers to anyone lucky enough to spotthem.

Arizona State University ornithologist David Pearson said witnessing a bald eagle is a “goosebump” moment. Pearson sees the survival of the bald eagle as a feather in the cap of ecology after the species’ near-extinction in the 1960s, when its numbers nosedived in the contiguous 48 states to 480 nesting pairs.

Estimated to be about 100,000 pairs or more in 1787, when the bird was adopted as the national emblem, the bald-eagle population plummeted over the next 200 years. Illegal shooting, habitat destruction and DDT, the chemical pesticide that interfered with the eagles’ and other birds’ ability to reproduce, causedtheir numbers to fall. “It was the first time people said, ‘Wow, we can’t just assume nature will keep on no matter what we do to it,’ ” Pearson said.

Predating the Endangered Species Act, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940, and it was amended in 1962 to protect the goldeneagle. In 2007, the Department of Interior took the American bald eagle off the federal list of endangered and threatened species, although that move remains controversial.

“Even for a hardened scientist, every time I see one, I get the same feeling. It’s a wonderful bird. It’s so big. It’s so powerful. It’s so majestic,” Pearsonsaid. “It stands for so many things, and especially unity. It shows what you can do if conservatives, Democrats or whoever work together — which we don’t have a lot of rightnow.”

The Republic will track the birds and report back on their status. Visit az central.com for updates.

The bald eagles nesting in Scottsdale have shown remarkable tolerance for humans and their activities, an expert says.

CHERYL EVANS/THE REPUBLIC

Pat–Scottsdale, AZ

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