Nesting bald eagles arrive in Vancouver, but at a vulnerable time
The raptors are vulnerable in busy urban areas when they are raising eaglets, say advocates
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Bald eagles throughout Vancouver are making the final touches on about 20 nests that will soon be home to dozens of eaglets come spring — and advocates are doing all they can to help.
Experts say nesting is a vulnerable time for the eagles, but some are having difficulties adjusting to the increasingly noisy urban life. Some raptors, like a male eagle living at Vanier Park, started calling Vancouver home long before the city became the bustling place it is now.
Film crews, outdoor parties, and an increasing number of off-leash dogs are all threats to eagles trying to raise young in the city, said Diana Seear, a longtime volunteer with the Hancock Wildlife Foundation.
“We’re so lucky to have them here," she said. "We should protect them, otherwise, they’ll be gone.”
The Vancouver eagles arrive in October to meet up with their respective partners — eagles mate for life – and raise young in the spring. They fly north in the summer but they come back every year and generally re-use the same nest, said Seear.
She and her husband, Mike, help the Hancock foundation monitor dozens of bald-eagle nests throughout the Lower Mainland, and they are particularly fond of a pair that nest just outside their house, in Vanier Park. It is one of 19 nests in Vancouver.
“This is the most vulnerable nest in the city,” said Seear, pointing out the multiple boating clubs in the vicinity and the annual Bard on the Beach production, as well as the open grassy field that invites off-leash dogs in the warmer months. Dogs can easily injure or kill eaglets that haven't gotten the hang of flying yet, said Seear.
Last spring, a group of people hosted an outdoor party directly under the nest and the noise level grew to such a level that organizers used a megaphone throughout the night. The eagles bolted that night, said Seear, just days before the eggs hatched. The pair raised no chicks that year.
This year, the pair decided to build a new nest about 100 metres away, directly above a BMX bike park.
“It is a difficult balance. If the eagles decide to move into town, you can hardly close the place down,” said Mike Seear. “But if you annoy an eagle, there are real consequences.”
The B.C. Wildlife Act prohibits people from disturbing eagles nests all year round.
The Vancouver Park Board says it is already aware of the eagles’ new nesting location and has suspended plans to expand the bike until after the nesting season is over. But Diana Seear wants the park board to shut down the bike park entirely during the nesting season, as bikes racing up and down ramps under the nest will likely cause the eagles to abandon the nest again, she said.
But some eagles are surprisingly tolerant – there is one pair that, of all places, picked the PNE to raise young every year, said the Seears.
And while they don’t seem to mind the noise, they are not the best architects. They have failed to raise chicks to adulthood because the young always fall out of the nest, said Mike.
“Some eagles not so great at architecture,” he said.
“The ones at East Hastings are dreadful at it. The nest keeps falling over in the tree.”
The Hancock Wildlife Foundation is planning to build a man-made nest for the pair next year, to give the architecturally challenged birds a better chance of successfully raising young.
But the nests are not cheap. Eagles nests can weight up to 1,000 pounds and are big enough to fit a full-grown man comfortably. Volunteers rent a crane to lift the man-made nest, made out of branches zip-tied together, onto the tree. The eagles then make the finishing touches like lining the bottom with moss and adding a few more twigs to make it feel like home, said Diana.
The foundation also monitors three nest cams across the Lower Mainland, where scientists and the public can watch eagles raise their young in real time. Each camera costs $15,000 a year to run.
Volunteers are also tagging more birds with GPS trackers so it can make note of exactly where the raptors go when they fly north every year. It is also planning to analyze blood samples from the birds to determine whether toxins are a threat to the apex predators.