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Outdoors: More and More Bald Eagles making Havre Their Home

 

Colin Thompson

A bald eagle soars through the sky just east of Havre earlier this spring. The great American birds are becoming more and more common around Havre, and all over the Milk River drainage.

Remember the days when a bald eagle sighting, especially in the Havre area, was a stunning and remarkable event? Remember when it was rare?

Well, thanks to the hard work of so many and, of course, federal protection, bald eagles haven't just made an incredible comeback in the United States over the last 30 years, the majestic bird, and the symbol of our nation, has also recovered to the point where the Havre area, and the entire Milk River drainage is now home to plenty of America's great birds.

In other words, sightings, while still exciting, are no longer rare.

"Bald eagles are fully recovered," said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bureau Chief Lauri Hanauska-Brown. "As of 2017, there were over 750 pairs of bald eagles in the state, and that's based off a 30-year recovery period. Bald eagles were removed from the Endangered Species List, but they still have their own federal protection (The Bald and Golden Eagles Protection Act). So they're still under federal protection. But, for our part, they have made an incredible recovery, and in Montana, at this point, they're nesting pretty much everywhere now, with the exception of some gaps in eastern Montana."

And that includes Havre, where at anytime and almost anywhere bald eagles can be seen flying overhead, hunting for fish on the open waters of the Milk River as well as local reservoirs all across the Hi-Line, or perched high in the cottonwoods that dot the entire Milk River valley.

"Pretty much every major river system in Montana, again, with the exception of some areas of extreme eastern Montana, is full of bald eagles now," Hanauska-Brown said. "In that area, from the Missouri River up to the Havre area, it's pretty much full of bald eagles now. And we're seeing them nesting in areas that historically they wouldn't have before. We're seeing nests on top of houses and garages and places like that, so we're finding out they're not as picky about their nesting sites as we once thought they were. So it shows they've adapted really well."

Hanauska-Brown did go on to say that, while the great bald eagles are nesting in locations that once seemed unusual or improbable, and while their numbers are still growing, people should be mindful that they are still under federal protection, and to be careful around them.

Still, the Havre area, where 30 years ago bald eagles weren't nearly as common, with numbers in the U.S. as low as just 790 breeding pairs in the entire country, is proof in the pudding that the majestic bird's comeback in the continental United States is complete and secure - and to the point that many areas of Montana are now permanent homes for bald eagles and not just migratory stopovers as was the case many years ago.

"It all depends on the food availability and open water," Hanauska-Brown said. "But we are seeing plenty of eagles wintering in Montana now. If there's plenty of food and open water, they'll stay, but if things freeze over, they'll move on to areas with better food sources. But now, it's not uncommon to see bald eagles in the winter along the Missouri River, or in most parts of Montana actually."

Colin Thompson

A bald eagle is perched on a power pole this spring in Beaver Creek Park. Bald eagles were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2006 but are still federally protected under The Bald and Golden Eagles Protection Act.

And it looks as though bald eagles, including in the Havre area where observation densities were once quite low, are not only here to stay, but there is even more of them coming.

"In much of Montana, you're seeing pairs of bald eagles in every single river system now, at a range of just 2 to 3 to 5 miles apart," Hanauska-Brown said. "So in Montana, as is the case with much of their range in the United States, they're fully recovered. And not just fully recovered, but they're expanding."

And that's a wonderful thing. And while bald eagle sightings in and around Havre might be now much more common, and will be even more common into the future, it's no less exciting. Every time a bald eagle is spotted, it's a thrilling experience, and thankfully, it's an experience that now includes Havre and the Hi-Line more often than it's ever been before.

In other words, bald eagles are calling Havre, the Hi-Line and the Milk River home now, and it doesn't get any better than that.

 

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