Videos of eagle family getting more views during pandemic
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Outside Kirby Wynn’s home in Glenwood Springs, a bald eagle battles a pair of ravens mid-flight for the prized and still dripping-wet trout clutched in the majestic raptor’s talons.
Shaking off the scavengers, the eagle glides into its nest resting atop the dead branches of a tree overlooking the Roaring Fork Valley, where two hungry eaglets — not yet sporting the iconic white bald head of their parents — gleefully bounce in anticipation of the incoming feast.
“I’ve seen this more than once,” Wynn, 50, casually quipped. “Sometimes, the eagle wins. Sometimes, the ravens do.”
A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Wynn and his wife were thrilled when a mating pair of bald eagles began building their nest about two football fields away from their back porch.
“Before the pandemic, we’d have people over for a barbecue and eagle watching right here in the backyard,” he explained.
Even before COVID-19 swept the nation, Wynn live-streamed videos of his winged neighbors, but in the past few months, he’s seen increased interest with some videos being viewed by more than 1,000 people.
With a 60x spotting scope, typically used for hunting, and a special attachment for his phone’s camera, Wynn shares his access to the eagles via Zoom and Facebook.
“It’s an enjoyable, relaxing thing to see,” he explained. “I thought it would be a nice thing to offer the community, especially in these trying times.”
A Garfield County employee, Wynn followed a job opportunity to Colorado in ’95 and moved to Glenwood Springs about 7 years ago.
“I’m an outdoorsy kind of person,” he said, explaining he regularly hunts and helps raise funding for wildlife conservation. “I’ve been out and about running around the mountains since I was a kid.”
Colorado’s abundant public lands and ample wildlife keep him rooted in the Western Slope, and the nearby bald eagle family so close to home is the icing on the cake.
“We first noticed the parents building a nest around November 2018,” he said. “Then, come spring (2019), three eaglets hatched.”
By August, the fledglings left to seek their fortunes elsewhere, and the nest was all but empty. Wynn and his wife thought that might be the end of it.
But come November, the parents returned and started rebuilding for a new brood with two eaglets hatching this spring.
“I think one of the most interesting things I’ve learned over this time is fledglings actually take a few years to grow the white feathers bald eagles are known for,” Wynn said.
Bald eagles gradually acquire their white plumage as they mature throughout a period of five years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The raptors can live about 30 years, weigh about 14 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 8 feet.
Once an endangered species, bald eagles were originally shielded by the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, which was amended to include golden eagles in 1962, USFWS states on its website.
But Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Randy Hampton said the species has recovered in recent decades.
“Bald eagles are in a lot of places throughout Colorado and have become really common,” Hampton said. “It’s actually a pretty good success story, because that wasn’t the case in the ’60s and ’70s.”
The bald eagle population is growing so rapidly Hampton was not able to immediately access an accurate count of the birds making their home in Colorado.
If seen in the wild, he encouraged people to observe from a safe distance.
“You’ll see them mostly along rivers and along waterways,” Hampton said. “Bottom line: Enjoy the view, but also give them space.”
Leaving the nest?
Conscious of the bird’s protected status, Wynn does not reveal their location, though he said several people have asked.
“I just tell them it’s in the Glenwood area,” he said, “and it’s on private land, which is true.”
While his house is located at a lower elevation, granting a decent view of the nest through a pair of binoculars, Wynn said a nearby trail leads to a higher vantage point on the opposite side of the nest, allowing him to film from an elevated viewpoint as well.
“When they’re young and fluffy, they’re really cool to see,” he said. “But I think what surprised me most was how long they stay in the nest after they learn to fly.”
Once hatched, he said the young eaglets grow for about 12 weeks before first testing their wings, but even after mastering flight, they hang around the nest for a month or more.
Watching the birds has become so ingrained in Wynn’s day-to-day that he often leaves his phone at home to live-stream the eagles, so he can check in on them at work.
While he’s unsure if they will return again after August, Wynn said he’d welcome the sight.
“The natural world is part of what I enjoy in life,” he said.
Wynn’s videos can be viewed on his Facebook page or in the Facebook groups Roaring Fork Road and Weather and Roaring Fork Swap.