By Robert Lucke
Folks in the area of Bear Par Mountains stretching from Cleveland all the way to Clear Creek report seeing large numbers of Bald eagles. Residents report Bald eagle numbers started to increase at the end of last summer and continued through the winter until now.
What is unusual about it all is that the Bald eagle, patriotic symbol of the United States, is a long way from typical habitat when residing in the north eastern areas of the Bear Paw Mountains.
Why are they there? Al Rosgaard, Havre area wildlife biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has some ideas.
"In the fall and spring time, seeing those eagles would fit their migration patterns," said Rosgaard. "I would suggest they are feeding on Richardson ground squirrels (gophers) when they start showing up and other rodents. I don't know what else would attract them."
Typical Bald eagle habitat is a combination of open water and trees where they can feed on a favorite diet of fish and ducks.
"I know the Missouri River has been fairly ice free this winter," continued Rosgaard. "That seems like a fairly long way for a bird to fly but they could be on the river and flying into the mountains."
Ducks can become a main staple in winter Bald eagle food.
"Bald eagles can feed on carrion too and during a tough winter they will feed on dead deer. Where ducks are concerned in wintertime ducks are concentrated in certain areas because much still water has frozen," said Rosgaard. "Once in a while Bald eagles will swoop down into the pile of ducks and pick one out."
Before now, when seeing eagles in this part of Montana, it is usually a Golden eagle.
"I would guess that Bald eagles that are here, it is a migration time of year. February and March, they are following the waterfowl north," said Rosgaard. "And overall across the country Bald eagles are increasing. Breeding populations have increase."
One thing suggests Rosgaard. Those eagles probably are not nesting in this country.
"I think those eagles are moving through. It would be unusual to see them nesting here," said Rosgaard. There are people looking for eagles nesting and there are just not many spots to see them. But seeing them come through is not unusual any more. Fifteen or twenty years ago it was very uncommon to see a Bald eagle. Not anymore though."
Want to see Bald eagles in the summer? Rosgaard suggest heading for park lands in Canada or in the Glacier National Park country. And a good winter sighting area is just below Fort Peck townsite on the Missouri River. For years that has been a favorite winter ground for Bald eagles.
Historically the area of the Missouri River east of Coal Banks Landing has been home to a Bald eagle nesting population.
For now though, a trip from Cleveland to Clear Creek should provide plenty of good Bald eagle sightings and marvelous photo opportunities.