Bald Eagles are a ‘Regal’ compliment to the San Juan Skyway

American Bald Eagle
The majestic emblem bird of the United States was almost extinct by the 1970s as a result of hunting and agricultural pesticides. In recent years, in Colorado and the San Juans America’s national symbol has been brought back from the brink of extinction. In 2007 Bald Eagles were taken off the endangered species list. Visitors to the San Juans can share this conservation success story seeing Bald Eagles in several habitats that are full of other bird species worth viewing. Bald Eagles are most often found near bodies of water, because fish are one of their main sources of prey. When fish are abundant, Bald Eagles might even wade in shallow water to pursue them, sometimes stealing fish from other birds. When fish are scarce, they may eat birds or mammals (jackrabbits, muskrats, others) or feed on carrion. Sometimes a predator, sometimes a scavenger, Bald Eagles usually hunt from a high perch, then swoop down to catch prey.
Bald Eagle
More than 1000 Bald Eagles usually visit Colorado in the winter. Keep in mind almost all bald eagles, except for some nesting pairs, leave Colorado by late February. During the months of November through February, Bald Eagles are common along the Uncompahgre River just north of Ouray. They winter along the river in the high cottonwood trees and feast on fish in the river. Elsewhere Bald Eagles can be sighted along the riverwalk trail just north of Ridgway The trail has interpretive displays on Bald Eagles that winter between Ridgway and Ridgway State Park just to the north.

One of the best viewing locations in the San Juans is John Martin Reservoir State Park near Las Animas and the Arkansas River. Located 17 miles east of Las Animas, John Martin is a huge lake. One of the largest reservoirs in Colorado, in addition to bird watching it is known for its excellent fishing, water sport activities and hiking. Besides Bald Eagles, the shoreline is one of the few remaining nesting areas in Colorado for the threatened Piping Plover. (From Las Animas, take Highway 50 east to County Road 24 at the small town of Hasty; turn right (south) on County Road 24 for 1 mile to the park entrance.)

Bald Eagle Caught Rabbit
Late January and February are some of the best times for viewing Bald Eagles in the San Juans. Leafless trees during this time make spotting them easier. It is also time in the birds’ life cycles to begin their courtship. Pairing rituals can include dramatic mid-air displays. During this time, they also begin nest building. Nest sites usually are in trees, often very tall trees. standing high above the surrounding forest. Nests will be ready by mid-February, the time when eagles usually lay their eggs. Bald Eagles usually first breed at age 4-5 years. They may mate for life. At least one parent remains with the young almost constantly for the first 2 weeks. In seasons when prey is very scarce, only the largest young may survive. Their age at first flight is about 10-12 weeks.