Rare sight: Pair of bald eagles nesting in Wichita

In his 65 years, Wichitan Richard Hitchcock had never seen anything like it.

He was driving by the Castle Inn Riverside along the banks of the Little Arkansas River in mid-December when he looked up and saw it — a bald eagle soaring over the treetops in the neighborhood.

"It was a real pleasure to get an opportunity to see it," Hitchcock said. "... It's a privilege. "

For the first time in memory, a pair of bald eagles have built a nest within Wichita's city limits.

Wildlife officials confirmed the existence of the nest and birds last week from a distance. The nest is on the island at Twin Lakes.

The eagles are easily seen from Twin Lakes' west parking lot just off Amidon.

In 1967, when the bald eagle was given protected status, the lower 48 states had fewer than 500 nesting pairs. Eagles were listed as an endangered species in 1973 but removed from the list two years ago.

In recent years, bald eagles have been spotted along the Arkansas River in the winter. Last year, a pair of eagles built a nest along the river south of Wichita in Sedgwick County. No eaglets hatched.

It's too soon yet to know whether the eagles have mated or laid eggs, said Dan Mulhern, fish and wildlife biologist for the U.S. fish and Wildlife Service.

Typically, 75 percent of bald eagle eggs in Kansas are laid in February, Mulhern said. Eggs have been produced as early as late December or January.

Eagles like their privacy. They can easily be disturbed and abandon the nest before the eggs — if there are any — are hatched, Mulhern said.

The Twin Lakes eagles have built a large nest in a cottonwood tree. Mulhern said what wildlife biologists will look for next is whether the adults are lining the nest with grass or other soft materials — a sign they intend to raise young.

These particular eagles may be first-time parents, Mulhern said. In that case, they may go through the motions of building a nest and not breed this year.

Time will tell whether the nest is for real or for practice. For now, the birds have been a treat for area birders.

In an e-mail to birders, Wichitan Paul Griffin wrote:

"The eagles are in a pretty safe place, they are in the middle of a deep lake —approximately 300 x 250 yards on a island ... which is in a restricted large apartment complex with a high steel fence around it. I wish them well."