Livin’ the Wildlife: Colorado Bald Eagles

Thanks to decades of species protection and conservation work, the bald eagle has enjoyed a remarkable recovery.

Known for its white head and tail feathers, the bald eagle is a symbol of power and freedom. As the only eagle species unique to North America, the bald eagle is truly an American icon. The prestigious bird has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782.

With a wingspan of up to 8 feet, the bald eagle is one of the largest raptors in North America. In addition to its size and grandeur, the bald eagle is also one of the greatest conservation success stories in American history. Despite its symbolic significance, the majestic bald eagle was nearly extinct by the mid 20th century.

Poaching, habitat loss and overuse of pesticides such as DDT had decimated bald eagle populations. Estimates showed that by the 1960s, as few as 400 nesting pairs remained in the continental U.S. To protect the remaining birds, the bald eagle was placed on the endangered species list in 1978.

Populations Soaring in Colorado

Thanks to decades of species protection and conservation work, the bald eagle has enjoyed a remarkable recovery. Today, an estimated 14,000 – 15,000 nesting pairs live in the lower 48 states. The bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007.

A Safe Place

Barr Lake State Park also supports one of the largest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the state, with hundreds of the birds migrating through the park each year in mid-December through February. The park’s dense cottonwood trees provide ideal roosting habitat. And Barr Lake’s open water and abundant gizzard shad provide prime fishing opportunities for the hungry birds.

Nicknamed “nestorations,” eagles typically add material and size to their nests every year. Nests may reach up to 10 feet across and weigh more than a half ton.

Eagles mate for life and each year the same birds return to the nest to raise their young. Barr Lake State Park has been home to a nesting pair of bald eagles since 1986. Much of the park is a wildlife refuge, helping to ensure that the eagles are protected from human disturbance.

Ongoing Conservation Efforts

Bald eagles do not get their famous white plumage until 4 to 6 years of age.
Juvenile bald eagles have brown or mottled feathers.

Although populations have recovered, the bald eagle remains a protected species. CPW partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other conservation organizations to continue monitoring nesting bald eagles throughout Colorado. CPW also works with Bird Conservancy of the Rockies on the Bald Eagle Watch program where citizen scientists are trained to monitor nests and fledgling success. Additionally, CPW works closely with counties and industry to minimize disturbance near nests and winter roosting sites. Through these ongoing conservation efforts, CPW will help ensure that bald eagle populations continue to recover and the birds remain for future generations.

To learn more about Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s conservation efforts, please read “Thanks to Conservation Programs, Colorado’s Fish and Wildlife are Thriving.”

Article and video by Jerry Neal. Neal is the senior videographer and a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

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