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Despite death of eaglets, American bald eagle conservation has paid off at Barr Lake State Park

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Posted at 1:46 PM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 17:32:55-04

ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. – A “wind event” on Sunday night into Monday morning is believed to have caused a dead tree to fall down, resulting in the death of two eaglets at Barr Lake State Park a week ago, according to wildlife officials.

And while the news resulted in thousands of Coloradans feeling sad for this loss of wildlife, officials said it’s all part of the cycle of life and is in no way a detriment to the park’s efforts to continue its mission to restore the American bald eagle not only in Colorado but across the West, and ultimately, across the U.S.

“It happens. It’s part of nature, unfortunately,” said Michelle Seubert, park manager for Barr Lake State Park. “You know, there could have been a snowstorm that happened, or it could have been an egg that didn’t hatch for another reason.”

CPW was notified of a downed dead tree on Monday morning and when staff went to check it out, they discovered the nest had been destroyed and two eggs were underwater. The eaglets did not survive.

That particular tree was holding a wire nest that had been put up by biologists from Colorado Park and Wildlife – then called the Colorado Division of Wildlife – back in 1986, when Colorado was doing its part to restore the American bald eagle population across the nation.

Wildlife officials would have to wait three years after installing that wire nest for it to be successful and produce its first eaglets.

Since then, Barr Lake State Park has seen 62 eaglets fledge their nests, a testament to the resilience of a species almost brought to the brink of extinction due to hunting, habitat loss and the use of pesticides since it was declared our nation’s symbol in 1782.

In 1974, for example, Colorado’s bald eagle population was reduced to only one pair. One. To say the situation was dire is an understatement. Across the United States, the bald eagle population had reached an all-time low of only 417 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states 11 years earlier, according to the Associated Press. It would take nine years for the species to begin making a comeback after DDT, a synthetic pesticide, was found to be harmful to wildlife and was subsequently banned in the U.S. in 1972.

By 1986, when Barr Lake State Park officials installed their first bald eagle wire nest, the population of these raptors had increased to about 10 nesting pairs. Twenty years later, in 2006, pairings had reached close to 65.

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This graph from the Center for Biological Diversity, published in June 2007, shows the American bald eagle population (in pairings) from 1967 to 2006.

It’s unclear how much the population of this majestic bird grew over the years in Colorado since its removal from the endangered species list in 2007, but recent figures from Colorado Parks and Wildlife show nests have been nothing but successful.

As of 2019, Colorado’s bald eagle population had soared to 202 active nests, including 12 along the Front Range in Boulder County and 48 in Weld County, per records obtained by The Denver Post. That brings the total of American bald eagles to about 400 statewide – a 200% increase within the past 45 years.

These statistics are the reason why Seubert says Coloradans shouldn’t be too sad about losing a couple of eaglets this season. After all, it’s not the first time bald eagles at Barr Lake State Park have lost their young. In June 2007, bald eagles had to rebuild a nest in the south part of the park after the wire nest installed in 1986 fell down. About three years later, on June 12, 2010, the nest they built in the southern part of the park fell down, and the bald eagles nesting there once again went back to their original nesting location, which as we all know by now, fell again last Monday – 11 years later after the last incident.

Seubert said park officials will wait until late summer/early fall to reinstall the wire nest in another viable tree to welcome the American bald eagle to the “bed and breakfast for birds” in Colorado’s Front Range next winter, hoping the cycle of life can begin anew.