Fly in with facts on eagles, cranes

I thought it was time to introduce you to a couple of birds you may see in, around or over our parks. We’ll look at their habits, where we can find them and places that you can observe them.

Besides that, you’ll have enough bits of information that you’ll be a hit at your next party or possibly even the next time a staff meeting gets dull. You can drop one of these in, and you’ll either astound people, or they may start to avoid you. Either way, you win.

EAGLES

Pretty much everyone knows about the eagles that have taken residence north of the city. Since their tree blew over, it seems they have decided to rebuild. From near decimation, bald eagles were taken off the Endangered List in 2007, and there are now close to 10,000 pairs known. These birds are unique to North America. They will get up to 42 inches tall and have a wing span that can get from 72 to 90 inches. They can weigh up to 14 pounds, but the females are slightly larger.Eagles mate for life, but if one dies, they will find a new mate. Generally, they will lay two eggs a season, but not every season; incubation is about 35 days.

Here, the mating season seems to be January through March. During this period and the nesting season, they can be very territorial. Speaking of nests, if the nest is used for several years, it can get up to nine feet in diameter and up to 2,000 pounds.

Unlike a lot of other birds, eagles are not born with a hunting instinct; it must be learned, and it is taught by the parents. Once they learn to fly, which is usually within four to five weeks, they are on their own.

The first year, the eagle has an all-brown body with white mottling on the underside of the wings. The second year, they will have white stomachs with streaks of dark, head and chest are dark, with some white on the tail. During the third season, you will start to see more white on the underside. There is a transition period between the fourth and fifth year in which the bird is a blend of both juvenile and adult coloring. By the fifth year, it gets its trademark coloring.

Besides the ones north of the city, there is also a pair nesting north of Carthage near the large lake. An eagle’s hunting ground can be anywhere from 100 acres to 10,000 acres, depending on how good the hunting is.

SANDHILL CRANES

These haven’t started landing around here, as there aren’t enough wetlands to support them. You can see them flying overhead, heading either north or south, depending on the time of year.The best place to view these birds is either Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County or Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area up north.

In either place you will get a treat. Up north, they get anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 birds per year. These birds roost in the wetlands and fly outside to get food. They stand about three and one-half feet tall with a wingspan of up to seven feet. They mate for life unless something happens to one of them.

They lay two eggs, and both parents tend to the young. After hatching, the chicks will begin to fly in about two months. Cranes are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever is handy.

They prefer plants and grains but will also eat small mammals, amphibians or reptiles. They can live up to 20 years.

The evening we saw them, they started arriving in groups of 20 or so just about 30 minutes before dark. As they landed in the field, some were eating, some were dancing.

Then they began to come in from all directions and land in the field. Later estimates by the fish and wildlife service put the number that night at about 3,000. Then just before darkness hit, one of the cranes jumped up into the air, squawked and the entire flock rose into the air and headed towards the wetlands for the night.