The number of reproducing bald eagle nests in south-central Kansas is growing.
Eight nests with eagles incubating eggs were found on an annual survey Tuesday, according to Charlie Cope, wildlife biologist at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Wichita’s famed Twin Lakes eagles, however, again don’t appear to be bringing on a new generation.
“We don’t know what to think of the Twin Lakes birds because we’ve been watching them for three years and nothing,” Cope said. “I don’t really refer to it as a nest, but we don’t know if it’s a feeding platform, a play nest or what.”
Cope and another biologist checked 13 possible nests Tuesday.
Last year, seven active nests were found in the area stretching from Marion County southward, and as far west as Kingman County.
Cope said Tuesday’s survey showed five active nests in Cowley County and one each in Sumner, Kingman and Sedgwick counties. The active Sedgwick County nest is near Derby, on the eastern shore of the Arkansas River.
Another eagle-built structure in Wichita, near I-235 and West Street, was ruled inactive. Cope said this is the first year he’s heard of possible structure-building by eagles at that location.
Based on current reports and past growth rates, about 60 active eagle nests are expected to be found in Kansas this year, according to Dan Mulhern, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Manhattan. He said Kansas had about 50 nests last year.
“It’s not the rarity it used to be, not as big a deal,” Mulhern said. “We like to find out about them, just to keep them in our database.”
Forty years ago bald eagle sightings were rare across most of Kansas. In recent years up to 1,000 bald eagles have spent the winter in Kansas, feeding on migrating waterfowl, fish and carrion.
An active nest at Clinton Reservoir, near Lawrence, was first documented in 1989. The number of active nests has been growing since.
Mulhern said there’s no proof bald eagles nested in Kansas prior to that, but he thinks it occurred based on historic summer accounts along the Kansas and Missouri rivers.
Highest modern nest densities are in eastern Kansas, with about 17 active nests along the Kansas River. Mulhern said most major reservoirs have at least one active nest. Clinton’s four is the most known for one lake.
Mulhern regularly sees non-nesting, immature eagles along several rivers and lakes through the summer. They may nest in Kansas when they reach breeding age.
Many of the newer nesting pairs have at least one eagle that was hatched in Kansas. It’s usually the male.
“The male decides where they’ll be nesting,” Mulhern said. “If a bunch of eagles are gathered in the winter and start pairing up, if she’s from North Dakota and he’s from Kansas she’s probably going to nest in Kansas.”
Cope said he welcomes public reports of eagle nests. Some nests have been active for several years before a biologist hears about it and documents the location and reproduction. Some reports aren’t actually eagle nests.
“We get some reports of redtail (hawk) and squirrel nests,” Cope said. “There’s no doubt when you finally see an eagle’s nest. They’re big. People can drive by Twin Lakes and look there for some size perspective. Most are bigger than that.”
Cope can be reached at 316-683-8069.