Eagle Tours becoming more popular

Did you know that an eagle’s nest can measure five feet wide and up and can weigh as much as two tons?

That fact, along with many others were shared with the people who came from as far as Enid to take part in the popular Eagle Tour held Feb. 8 at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Vian.

The tours, hosted by the wildlife refuge, are held each Saturday until March 7, Leann Bunn, Naturalist for Tenkiller State Park and tour guide, said.

The group met at the wildlife headquarters and the day began with a brief presentation and questions and answers about the eagles. The group viewed an “Eagle cam” of an eagle which has been nesting for several weeks. The cam tracks fledglings and other activities from the birds such as preparing their nest for the nesting season, Bunn said.

The group then boarded the tour bus which traveled to several locations where nests could be seen from the roadway. Some nests were occupied and the group was able to view them from two spotting scopes provided on the tour.

The group viewed such activities from the birds as spotting one or two sitting in nearby trees or in their nests. They were at such a distance that they could only be seen using the scope.

Bunn said one eagle must have felt intruded by all the onlookers who come to the refuge and decided to build a higher wall on one side of the nest so anyone watching from the road, can not see from that side.

“They’re pretty smart birds,” she said. “That one is due to hatch anytime. They have a job to do so we don’t bother them. It takes from 30 to 35 days for the eggs to hatch. Most eagles lay two to four eggs but they don’t always all make it for various reasons,” Bunn said.

Bunn said there are 125 nesting pairs of eagles located on the refuge. Most, if not all, are Southern Bald Eagles. She said the female is always larger in size than the male.

“We tell people it’s ok to stand from the roadway to watch the eagles but not to get on the grounds or go anywhere near them. There’s a hefty fine for that,” she said.

Once the eaglets are born, they can eat “ferociously” Bunn said. Their diet consists mostly of fish but they also eat a variety of other animals such as rabbits and squirrels and sometimes other birds.

The eagles are born with dark colored feathers which turn white or gray as they age. When the eagle is around two years old, some feathers turn a little white. At three there is some gray and from four to five years old, they start getting the white head and tail, Bunn said.

Once they are full grown, their wing span can range from six to seven feet wide and can weigh as much as 15 pounds. Most, depending on the species weigh less than that, Bunn said.

The eagle is known as the king from the birds of prey species. Bunn said the eagle flies or soars flat. Their wings do not flap as a vulture or other birds. It’s one way you can tell it’s an eagle that’s flying,” she said. “They also have a long beak and if they turn sideways, you can look at their side profile to see that,” she said.

Along the way, the group of about 20 spotted other species of birds including hawks, goons and one which Bunn described as a double-crested Courant near the waters where the Canadian River dumps into the Arkansas River located on the wildlife refuge.

The refuge is known to host one of the largest bald eagle populations in the state.

Michelle Garrison, drove from Mt. Magazine, Ark., on that day with her husband, said it was her first time to take the tour.

“My aunt lives here and when she told me about the tour, I talked her into going with me. I just think it’s awesome,” she said.

Denise Gehay said she came to the Eagle Tour a few years ago. Gehay said this was the fourth time for she and her husband, Charles, to take the tour.

“We just love coming here to see them. I learn something new each time,” she said.

“The first time we came, there were less than a handful of us here. Now the groups seem to be growing.”

The tours are becoming more and more popular with some people who return each year to participate, Bunn said, noting this is the 19th year of the Eagle Tours.

“I take great pleasure is sharing this successful conservation story of the eagle,” Bunn said. “We invite anyone to come and take part.”

The tour, which begins at 9 a.m. takes about three hours to complete. Anyone wanting to take part can contact the refuge at 918-489-5641 or visit the website for the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge.

As the tour neared towards the end, one eagle flew from its nest straight above the crowd.

“That was a perfect ending to a great tour,” Gehay said.

Sequoyah County Times

111 N. Oak
Sallisaw OK 74955