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Bald eagle pair has home among the ball fields at Sand Springs' Case Community Park
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Bald eagle pair has home among the ball fields at Sand Springs' Case Community Park

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Maybe they’re Cardinals fans.

That’s probably it.

Although no one can say for sure that a love of baseball was why a mated pair of southern bald eagles moved their nest more than a decade ago from the south side of the Arkansas River to the north side, the fact that the nest now sits conveniently high above three separate baseball diamonds in Case Community Park is probably good evidence, right?

Raptor enthusiasts might worry that the birds of prey made a judgment error in setting up housekeeping so close to throngs of noisy humans — not to mention the occasional errant foul ball — but Cheryl Cavert, a volunteer bald eagle nest monitor for the Sutton Avian Research Center in Bartlesville who has been keeping tabs on the nest since about the time of the move, isn’t too concerned.

“We often refer to country birds and city birds,” she said, noting that eagles that aren’t fond of being observed by humans can certainly build more-remote nests.

Cavert, who is one of the founding members and a coordinator of the Sutton Center’s Bald Eagle Survey Team, or BEST, program, said the nest at Case Community Park is referred to as the “Rader Nest,” a nod to its previous home on the south side of the river near the now-closed L.E. Rader juvenile detention center.

The nest has been monitored almost continuously since 2009. Bald eagles mate for life, although these two haven’t been tracked, so there’s no way to be certain if they are the original inhabitants.

“They most likely are,” Cavert said, “but if they do lose a mate, they find another one.”

The Rader Nest eagles are southern bald eagles, meaning that once they reach maturity, they don’t migrate, she said. They’re about 25 percent smaller than the migratory northern bald eagles.

Cavert said the eagle pair in the Rader Nest typically produces two chicks each year, although “what we’ve seen on camera is they tend to lay three to four eggs.”

Whether the Rader Nest eagle pair is nursing any bundles of joy this year isn’t yet certain, but a tiny, fuzzy brown head or two could be visible any day now.

The eagles typically will lay eggs in early to mid-January and then incubate them for 35 days, Cavert said. After the chicks hatch, they will remain in the nest for 11-12 weeks before they start fledging, or learning to fly.

Once they’ve mastered flight, the chicks will hang around the nest for an additional month or two while the mother eagle teaches them to hunt, Cavert said.

By late July, juvenile eagles will migrate north, maybe even as far as Canada, she said, but they’ll come back here each year until they reach sexual maturity in four to five years. At that point, they will stop migrating.

Considering what spring weather looks like in Oklahoma — from snow to tornadoes within days, sometimes — it might be a miracle that any chicks ever survive to experience that journey to adulthood.

“The first two to three weeks, the weather can be a big factor,” Cavert said. “They don’t have their weather resistance feathers yet.”

And the nests, of course, rest high up in trees. Although eagles build some of the largest tree nests ever recorded, they can be no match for an Oklahoma storm.

Eagles also seem to have a preference for cottonwood trees, Cavert said, which tend to shed branches during storms more than some other trees might.

It was just such an Oklahoma storm on March 25, 2015, that produced an EF2 tornado that left destruction across Sand Springs, killed one person in the city, and spelled utter tragedy for the Rader Nest eagles.

“It was just a normal spring,” Cavert said. “I was monitoring all the nests there in the Sand Springs area. I had been by a week before the tornado and took pictures.

“The morning after, I went by to check. I met (then-Tulsa County Game Warden) Carlos Gomez at the ballpark, and the nest was strewn all over the ball field, along with the babies,” she said.

Although their babies had died, the adult eagles had escaped the wrath of the storm and were sitting in trees nearby, Cavert said, adding that the eagles were distressed.

“They were just calling out — for the mate or just expressing alarm,” she said.

But as proof that life finds a way, the Rader Nest eagles not only rebuilt their home, Cavert said, they did so in the same tree. And in that nest they have produced chicks in at least four of the five years since then.

In 2013, they had three chicks, she said, although two is typical. For most of the past few years, the pair has produced just one chick.

“That may be because there are more nests using the same amount of resources,” Cavert said.

It’s true — eagle nests are all over the place in and around Sand Springs.

“There’s another pair up on Avery Drive,” Cavert said. “Along that area, there’s probably a nest every half mile.

“We used to think of (the eagles’) territory as being about three miles,” she said, “but there’s places around here you could have three territories within a mile.”

What makes the Rader Nest unique among them is its accessibility. With many of the others, their remoteness prevents the average person from viewing them, she said.

Accessibility, when discussing bald eagle nests, can be a double-edged sword, though.

No one wants to disturb the eagles, no matter how much they seem not to mind cohabitating near humans.

Besides, “the best views are really further away than to try to get up right underneath the tree,” Cavert said, adding, “300 yards away is a better view than 20 feet underneath it.”

Cavert said people who wish to be respectful of the eagles’ desire for privacy should try not to be obvious about gawking.

“If you approach them, keep your head down; look the other way or wear sunglasses,” she said. “If they see you looking directly at them, it’s threatening.”

Aside from humans, bald eagles have few natural enemies, and adult eagles have no natural predators, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Nestlings and eggs, however, are occasionally preyed on by other birds, raccoons, bobcats and even black bears.

Cavert said it would be rare to see a bald eagle on the ground unable to fly but that even if one was, it wouldn’t necessarily need help.

Birds that are learning to fly often have a few imperfect attempts before they figure things out, but the parents will still feed the bird and will be close by.

Knowing when to intervene is something local wildlife rehabilitators can help determine. WING IT, or the Wildlife In Need Group In Tulsa, an area network of home wildlife rehabbers, operates a hotline at 918-508-9607 to help provide such guidance.

But if it turns out that intervention is required, Cavert recommends calling the game warden for the county. An Oklahoma game warden directory can be found at bit.ly/GameWardens.

“He can assess whether anything needs to be done and, if so, what to do,” she said.

“An eagle isn’t something that just anybody wants to handle. You have to know what you’re doing,” Cavert said. “Those talons — they can get ahold of your arm and just crush it.”

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