Bald Eagles Make Their Home Near Tempe Town Lake

March 26, 2014

(Photo courtesy of the Arizona Game and Fish Department)
A bald eagle in a nest.

America’s mascot is no longer an endangered species but still has special protections. Policemen patrol their nests and keep the locations a secret.

Bald Eagles have built two nests in the Phoenix metro area, and there are more than 50 in the state. One is near Tempe Town Lake, but its exact location is secret.

State game and fish biologist Ken Jacobsen and I went looking for it at the water’s edge. He said the nest has been near here for six years.

“As a breeding area it has been really successful. More successful than average productivity around the state,” said Jacobsen.

Most eagles build nests six-foot in diameter within a mile of water, because they love to eat fish. Jacobsen said at last count there were 110 adult eagles flying around the state. But he doesn’t have an exact number, because much like the rest of the Valley, the population increases during the winter.

“Cause we will have eagles from up north who are spending the winter down here in our more mild climate," said Jacobsen.

Those snow birds don’t breed down here. The Arizona natives start breeding in January. It is earlier than their northern counterparts and it’s also a critical time of year for the birds. So important that two police officers patrol the the nests every day, through April.

“People see an eagle and want to get close and take a picture of it, and for the most part that’s fine as long as it’s not approaching the nest itself where the eagles have another job to do. They need to be sitting on those eggs taking care of those young. Protecting the young from other avian predators," said Jacobsen.

In 2007, Bald Eagles were removed from the endangered species list, but another federal law in effect carries large fines and prison time for disturbing a bird.

Sergeant Rick Gwaltney of the Salt River Police Department said most people do not realize how taking pictures and getting too close to could hurt the animals. He said repeat offenses or intentional disturbances are the problem.

“That would be a federal violation which is a felony," said Gwaltney.

Gwaltney said in the past five years, only two cases have been submitted to federal prosecutors and neither was pursued. Roughly one trespassing ticket and five or six written warnings are issues each season.

Back at Tempe Town Lake I saw plenty of birds but no bald eagles. Jacobsen said the eagles nearby will frequently come to the lake for meals.

“When they find a fish they’ll fly by the water drop their talons down grab the fish with their talons and then fly off with it and return it to the nest,” said Jacobsen.

Jacobsen said if we were to get too close to the eagles nest, we would know by their flight pattern. Since we did not get to see any of that, the game and fish department gave us some of this stock video of birds making noises saying they were stressed. Jacobsen said other than human disturbances, motorized parachutes and drones are bothering the birds.

Watch the video below.