This time of year marks the beginning of the breeding season of the bald eagle on the Hebgen Lake Ranger District. Today, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem supports a dense, healthy population of breeding bald eagles, with the Hebgen Lake Ranger District being the only district on the forest where bald eagles nest and rear their young.
Bald eagle courtship peaks during the cold winter months of January and February, when adults build and improve upon their nests. In the Hebgen Basin, bald eagles nest in close proximity of Hebgen Lake and Quake Lake, where they can find a steady diet of waterfowl and fish to rear their young.
It can take up to five years for bald eagles to develop their symbolic adult plumage.
Prior to that time, they are often confused with golden eagles, but their yellow bill, legs and eyes are a dead giveaway, despite the lack of the distinctive white head and tail. Bald eagles are long-lived and will typically survive 10-15 years in the wild.
Bald eagle claws are as long as the canine tooth on a mountain lion, and their grasping pressure can be as strong as 1,400 psi. A fish, bird or small mammal doesn’t stand a chance once it finds itself in the claws of such a formidable grasp.
Several of the bald eagle nests on the Hebgen Lake Ranger District have already been confirmed as being occupied this spring. One of the nests that have been used for several years fell out of its tree over the winter. We haven’t yet determined if the pair has attempted to rebuild a nest yet this year. As you explore the District in the next few months, keep your eyes to the sky and look for the silhouette of these birds overhead.