Each morning as the sun creeps its way above the horizon, I go out onto the prairie to greet the wildlife and take note of the subtle changes across the landscape. As I walk out of the Plains Conservation Center's visitor center building and get into the truck, I am sure the eagles can see me coming from over a mile away. The resident bald eagle pair have been onsite at Plains Conservation Center in Aurora, CO for three years now, watching all the changes occurring in and around the open space preserve. The pair perch for hours, observing the landscape from some of the few trees present on the property. It is in these trees that I’ve had the pleasure of watching them build their nest from scratch. With eyes that are similar in size to ours but with vision that is four times better, eagle vision is among the best in the animal kingdom. If you swapped your eyes for an eagle's, you could see an ant crawling on the ground from the roof of a 10-story building. The eagle’s eyes miss nothing.
The bald eagles spend most of the day scanning the open prairie, listening and absorbing the scenery around them. They watch the pronghorn graze, the Northern Harriers fly low to the ground as they hunt, the prairie dogs running from hole to hole and the coyotes stalking their prey. If another raptor in the area catches a meal the eagles go in for the steal. Sometimes when they take their morsel back to the nest, the black-billed magpies appear as the first drop of blood hits the branches of the nest, much the way your dog appears when he hears a food package open. The magpies stare like salivating dogs at the dinner table, waiting for the opportunity to pick up any scraps.
The eagles also watch the never-ending traffic passing by to the north and south—the capsules of color moving along dark paths of no vegetation. They watch the construction of the new storage lot to the east and the creeping erection of pointed structures to the west, housing creatures that have completely changed the scenery of the prairie. The eagle’s eyes miss nothing.
I often find myself pondering what role the eagles think we play. They know other birds are similar to them because they steal and compete with them. They realize some animals are prey, like the prairie dogs and the rabbits. They see other animals acting as predators, like coyotes catching the prairie dogs and rabbits. They don’t see us catching and eating prey though, nor do they see predators catching and eating us. I am sure they notice that we alter the landscape, replacing it with structures where their hunting grounds used to be.
Native Americans across the Great Plains saw eagles as visionaries that saw the world far from themselves with understanding and clarity. Eagles were the emissaries of the sky, and their feathers were sacred pieces of spirit; never worn as casual adornment but as reflections of a person’s vision and accomplishment. Today, there is an underlying collective respect for this magnificent bird of prey that we have chosen to be our national symbol. By closing off areas around their nesting sites as we do at Plains Conservation Center, we continue to show them the respect that we believe they deserve.
As humans we have begun to realize the affects we have on the natural world. Due to our actions bald eagles were placed on the endangered species list. We have recently made decisions to change our actions and have managed to lift them out of the endangerment we placed them in. They are now one of the most successful conservation efforts of our time.
If you have never had the opportunity to observe these majestic birds I invite you to visit the pair at Plains Conservation Center at 21901 E. Hampden Ave, Aurora, CO 80013. The center is open from noon-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It may be that the eagles see you coming, because the eagle’s eyes miss nothing.
GUEST BLOGGER: FENDI DESPRES
Fendi is a biologist with “an adoration for all the exquisite marvels that can be found in nature.” She has a passion for learning and sharing what she discovers with others. Fendi currently works as a naturalist for the city of Aurora's open space and natural resources division and she enjoys wildlife and botanical photography.
Note from Denver Botanic Gardens: Plains Conservation Center helps students and adults grow their knowledge and appreciation of the prairie ecosystem and the cultural history of Colorado through a variety of educational programs managed by Denver Botanic Gardens. Attend a program at Plains Conservation Center and you may catch a glimpse of the bald eagles!