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By Mike Terry, Deseret News

After more than two months in a confined space, two bald eaglets are expected soon to stretch their wings and fly from the home nest to start their journey as adults into the world.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Watchable Wildlife program held an eaglet watching in North Salt Lake Tuesday morning to observe the babies' attempt to fly. Although they did not make any grand exits, the eaglets did wave their wings and move around in their nests.

"They are learning to fly when they are doing all these antics," DWR Watchable Wildlife Program coordinator Bob Walters said.

Though the eaglets did not take wing at 75 days old, they will soon.

"The magic number for this bird is 88 days, when they earn their wings," Walters said.

They nest in a structure made by Walters, which he says looks like a fork that was caught in a garbage disposal. He also made a perch for the parents out of steel. He made the structures because the old nest and perch, a dead cottonwood, blew over in a windstorm in 2001. The eagles do not seem to mind the man-made nest because they return year after year to the nesting site to incubate new eggs.

He said the nesting process as well as wind and other environmental factors damage the nest.

"With bald eagles it is a matter of repair and maintenance," Walters said.

The birds incubated for 35 days and after approximately 75 days will attempt to fly.

Because the nest is so close to the Jordan River, the eagles dine on a regular diet of fish, waterfowl and water snakes, as well as muskrat and other rodents. Walters said because the birds live close to a sheep ranch, the ranchers were afraid the eagles would eat lambs. However, he has not seen wool in the nest materials, so he said he thinks the sheep are safe.

Eagle nests usually have a minimal threat from natural predators, though the eaglets have a 60-70 percent mortality rate, he said. The babies have extreme temperatures to deal with from when the eggs are laid in February to the time they vacate the nest. Also, if a baby falls from the nest, it must return to the nest by itself or it will die.

People are the biggest threat.

"I can't tell you how many times people have driven in a bird field," he said.

When the baby eagles learn to fly, they head for places unknown to them.

"They go on these incredible nomadic adventures," Walters said.

They will eventually return to where they were born because they have "an affinity for the natal site." If the parents are still living, however, the parents will drive the babies away, although the babies will nest in an area close to home.

He said he is so protective of the eagles that he thinks people think he is "bird nutty." However, he said he bets people who have watched the birds closely now have names for the birds.

The site is in the Legacy Nature Preserve. Walters said because of the restricted speed of the Legacy Highway and the adjacent preserve, drivers will be exposed to wildlife they have not seen before.

"I am surprised at the number of people who don't know this nest is here," Walters said.

Watchable Wildlife holds field trips throughout the year to see wildlife such as eagles and bighorn sheep, according to Walters.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com