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MARS' Eagle Fest taking flight in Campbell River this weekend

By SANDY FAIRFIELD February 21, 2013 · 3:30 PM
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THE EAGLE FEST happens this Weekend in Campbell River. / PHOTO SUBMITTED

The Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society will hold its seventh annual Eagle Fest in Campbell River this weekend.

Once a year the society celebrates these magnificent birds, hoping to raise public awareness about their ever-changing environment that ultimately impacts their future survival.

Bald eagles are the largest local raptor and top of the food chain; they are significant indicators of the overall health of all our wildlife species, which are all interdependent.

We are very fortunate in the Comox valley and Campbell River areas to have ideal conditions that support healthy eagle populations.

Bald eagles need to live close to water and are especially at home along the shorelines of oceans, rivers or lakes. They also need a large territory that must also provide them with perch trees and nest trees, which may be several kilometres apart.

Eagles, like most raptors, mate for life and they have been known to live for at least 15 years. Each season during the year is clearly defined in an eagle's life, which makes them very interesting to follow and study as each year they return to their same territory and nest sites.

Winter is the time that eagles return to their breeding territory where they will re-establish bonds with their mates and start to rebuild and repair their old nests. By January they are beginning to woo each other and will perform incredible mating rituals that will often involve aerial acrobatics that will see them join talons and free fall from great heights.

Unfortunately, sometimes this behaviour does not have a happy ending when they cannot disengage their talons.

Kye Bay beach is a wonderful place to watch eagle antics as well as herons and hundreds of migratory sea ducks. Valentine's Day signifies the successful end to their mating, when egg production begins and incubation becomes the new focus.

It is important to remember that all eagle nest trees are protected year round by law and conducting any kind of construction near these nest trees is forbidden during the nesting season. Usually eagles produce two eggs, four days apart, and incubation takes up to 36 days.

Both parents will take turns although the female does most of the shifts and her mate will provide her with food. Keeping an eye on easily visible nests can be really interesting and sometimes sad as the eagle nest cameras have shown.

Survival does not come easy for any wildlife but eaglets are "sitting ducks" high atop the tree and are under constant threat from predators such as crows and ravens. Often only one of the eaglets will survive to fledge, especially in years when the food supplies are low, and it is not unusual for one sibling to eat or push the weaker one out of the nest.

I have spent many an hour watching an eagle's first flight, which sometimes necessitates the parents trying to bribe them from the nest with food rewards; once I watched as the parents systematically removed branches from the nest so the young bird had nowhere to perch, hence the need for annual nest repairs!

MARS has already admitted nine bald eagles this year and the majority of these birds were immature and were still learning their hunting skills, which happened to be dining on "road kill," causing them to be hit by vehicles.

Two other eagles were electrocuted, probably as a result of the number of foggy days we had where visibility was almost nil and these birds rely on their eyes for hunting; and finally two emaciated birds contracted a fungal lung infection.

The eagles are hungrily awaiting the arrival of the annual herring spawn along with thousands of migratory sea birds that must bulk up before continuing to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Please do not attempt to rescue an injured eagle; call our centre at 1-800-304-9968 to report the injury. These birds can be very unpredictable when they have been hurt.

We welcome visitors to the Maritime Heritage Center in Campbell River this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be live raptors, guest speakers and your chance to ask any wildlife questions.

For more information, check www.wingtips.org.

Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Friday.