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February month of love for eagles, too
This year is the ninth anniversary of MARS' Eagle Fest.
Each year in February we hold a one-day festival to celebrate the magnificent bald eagles.
Just like many humans, bald eagles choose February as their month of love. Having survived the rigours of winter the eagles, that are monogamous by nature, start to think about reconnecting with their mates and re-establishing their bonds.
During January they are very visible and extremely vocal calling to each other as they perform aerial acrobatics and complicated mating rituals. Procreation is the No. 1 priority on their minds and they will defend their mate and territory even if it means they sustain injuries in the process.
Some years are particularly hard for eagle in January and February after long, cold snowy weather but this year so far other than a few rain storms they have been able to access enough food to hopefully sustain them through the rest of the winter.
Plentiful food supplies bode well for a healthy population of young eaglets. Indications from the figures released at the annual eagle count in Brackendale near Squamish showed there were 1,600 eagles, twice as many as the previous year.
I happened to be visiting Squamish and the trees and banks along the Cheakamous River were full of eagles. With the abundance of salmon there was no need for them to fight over food. Usually at this time of year eagles resort to scavenging at the garbage dump and we rescue and rehabilitate many that are poisoned or injured as a result.
Springtime sees the end of the family unit for last year's eaglets; they will have remained close by their parents learning all the necessary skills they need to be successful hunters.
They must also find and establish their own territory. Many of these unskilled birds will end up fighting with other juveniles. Often they will scavenge food, stealing from each other rather than trying to catch their own.
MARS admitted 48 eagles last year. The majority were injured due to impacts with vehicles.
January is a perfect time to watch the eagles as they return to their nest sites to make repairs and get the nest ready for breeding and raising the young.
Eagle nests can be very large as they are reused for many years. Sometimes the parents have to start over again rebuilding a nest that they took apart due to a reluctant eaglet that did not want to leave the comfort of the nest. Usually, eagles produce two eggs that are incubated for approximately two and a half months.
There are many nest trees in the Comox Valley and Campbell River than can be watched; fledging is a very entertaining time as the young exercise their wings, jumping around the edge of the nest.
Taking the first flight can be very daunting to the eaglets and the parents often have to practise "tough love" to bribe them out of the nest with food rewards.
Once airborne, it is amazing how well they perform, however the first landing can be a challenge that often results in a crash landing or two. In some cases the eldest eaglet will push its sibling from the nest and we have had to organize a tree climber to return the eaglet to the nest.
We invite everyone to the eagle fest, which is always an interesting event with guest speakers, live birds of prey and fun for the kids. Please check the papers for more details; the festival is held in the Maritime Heritage Centre in Campbell River, which in itself is a fascinating place full of maritime history.
To report injured wildlife, please call 250-337-2021. For all other inquires, visit our website at www.wingtips.org.
Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Thursday.