Dec 16 2009

Want to see eagles?

Published by at 7:10 am under Birds of Prey

Immature Bald Eagle, Crooked Creek (photo by Steve Gosser)

Bald eagles, that is. Though most birds have left the northern part of the continent by now, December is a great time to see these majestic birds of prey. 

Bald eagles are sea eagles, more closely related to white-tailed eagles than to goldens, so you'll always find them near open water.  As the lakes freeze up north, bald eagles move south and then to the rivers.

Near Pennsylvania the best place by far to see winter eagles is at Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland.  Unfortunately Conowingo is a 4.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh so when I don't have the time to make the trip there are places in western Pennsylvania where I can find an eagle or two - or more.

Pymatuning is one such place, about two hours away.  Bald eagles live at the lake year round and nest within sight of the Game Commission Wildlife Learning Center. It's easy for them to stay all year, even in freezing conditions, because there's always some open water at the spillway.

Even closer and only a 45-minute drive is Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park, a good place for eagles when the lake's not completely frozen.  The Three Rivers Birding Club held an outing there last Saturday and was treated to a heart-stopping moment when a pair of bald eagles attacked a flock of coots.  Watch the 3RBC website and their newsletter, The Peregrine, for details on what happened next. 

You can also find bald eagles at Crooked Creek Lake in Armstrong County, only an hour away.  A pair of eagles nested there last year and are courting now in preparation for nesting in January.  I saw both adults last weekend plus two of their "kids" as I watched from the Overlook.  Marge Van Tassel and Steve Gosser tipped me off to this site. Shown above is Steve's picture of one of the immatures taken on December 5th.  Nice, eh?

And the colder it gets, the more likely you won't even have to leave town to see an eagle.  As the lakes freeze bald eagles will come to Pittsburgh's three rivers.  Watch the Allegheny, Monongahela and especially the Ohio at Dashields Dam. 

Far or near, December's a good time to see "sea" eagles.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Want to see eagles?”

  1. Kathy McCharenon 16 Dec 2009 at 8:29 am

    I live near a large lake in Tallahassee, FL and a pair of eagles nested in the neighborhood last year. After one of their offspring was found in a neighbor’s backyard, badly dehydrated, a local wildlife rehab group captured the baby and he spent several months at their facility. After rehab, he was released in our neighborhood a month or so ago. It’s amazing how the entire neighborhood has rallied behind “our eagles”! A neighbor just told me that she had seen the adults building a nest behind our house. It’s very exciting!!

  2. Anne Curtison 17 Dec 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Once again, I’m not sure where to post this–but I trust you’ll figure it out!

    Yesterday, we saw a hawk of some sort on the chimneys in the inner quad at CMU, and I thought I heard Herself (my choice of sexes!) again today, again walking the dog. We also saw a smallish one flying near Pino’s in Regent Square after lunch.

    Who over-winters, besides the eagles you mentioned? I thought most migrated?


  3. Kate St. Johnon 18 Dec 2009 at 7:07 am

    “Herself” was at CMU in the center of campus yesterday when I took my walk. During good weather (yesterday and Wed) the CMU red-tails soar over campus a lot. They stay all winter, as do the peregrines at Pitt.

    Hawks and falcons you’ll typically find in the City of Pittsburgh in winter are red-tailed hawks, Coopers hawks and peregrine falcons. I don’t see many sharp-shinned hawks but they’re in the area. Much less common but possible in the city in winter are merlins or a solo bald eagle (as mentioned above). In the surrounding countryside in appropriate habitat you’ll find northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, northern goshawk (good luck finding one!) and American kestrels.

    That’s all I can think of… but it feels like I’m missing something.

  4. Steve Von 18 Dec 2009 at 8:58 am

    I’m pretty sure that I saw a Cooper’s Hawk right outside of WQED yesterday morning around 7:30. It dove at something and landed on the dark stone wall along 5th Ave. First one that I’m sure I’ve seen around. Dark brown chest, long tail feathers with dark black bands, smaller than a Red-Tailed. And then over the Allegheny River at Springdale a dozen or so swans, I think. They were pretty far off, but bright white and long necks. Good day for birds in the city.


  5. Anne Curtison 19 Dec 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Thank you, and OOPS! The other hawk we saw was in fact near Pino’s, but the restaurant is in Pt. Breeze, not Regent Square. I think it might have been hunting in Mellon Park, or one of the areas nearby.


  6. Chris Harlanon 28 Dec 2009 at 2:41 pm

    I had read about the eagle attack on the coots. On a subsequent weekend, I was treated to the same maneuver as I came up along the South Shore of Lake Arthur. I noticed that the coots were completely bunched together as though making out to look like one BIG super coot. Also I did not see any dive away as the Eagle swooped down.

    I’m wondering whether this is the same animal instinct that some herd animals harness in the Savannah when they expect a lion attack.

    It appeared to me as though the eagle needed to be able to single out (visually) one specific coot before it could actually get one. Since the coot stuck close together the eagle landed near by on the ice and looked rather embarrassed.

    I wonder what others have observed in this regard.

    Your blog is wonderful! THANK YOU.

  7. Kate St. Johnon 28 Dec 2009 at 2:57 pm

    >as though making out to look like one BIG super coot.
    What a great description. I’ve heard that this flocking behavior makes it almost impossible for the predator to capture prey because he can’t see how to grab on to just one. Glad you saw it. I wish I’d been there!

  8. Kate St. Johnon 03 Jan 2010 at 8:27 am

    Eagle sighting! Jan 2 I was standing at the checkout in Petco at The Waterfront (this is the shopping center opposite Duck Hollow). The line was moving slowly so I gazed out the window toward the bluffs along the Mon River when I saw all the gulls come up off the river at once. An adult bald eagle cruised by, flying upriver. Way cool!

  9. Cory DeSteinon 06 Mar 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Kate, i had mentioned in your other thread on eagles i saw bald eagles at the same exact spot, flying through the Waterfront and it was in January.
    I read on the three rivers bird site that a bald eagle was spotted flying up to Mon right in West Mifflin just a few weeks ago.

    Are they for sure nesting in Moraine?

  10. Kate St. Johnon 06 Mar 2010 at 8:36 pm

    I don’t know for sure this spring. Haven’t been there for a while.

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