Bald eagles flock to Kansas City area

03/18/2014 12:00 AM

03/18/2014 6:15 PM

Bald eagles have flocked to the area in huge numbers this winter, pushed south by severe weather.

Mike Watkins, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said there are plenty to be spotted at lakes and reservoirs in the area, including Smithville Lake.

Prime viewing spots are along the Kansas and Missouri rivers and any body of water, including Lake Jacomo, Blue Springs Lake, Bean Lake and Longview Lake and Squaw Creek National Refuge in Missouri and Shawnee Mission Park, Wyandotte Park, Clinton Lake and La Cygne Reservoir in Kansas, said Larry Rizzo, natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Missouri attracts about 3,000 bald eagles each winter, including bald eagles passing through the area and those that spend the winter there. Kansas also attracts about 3,000 eagles each winter.

They usually arrive in the Kansas City area in mid-November, following waterfowl south in search of open water. An unusually cold winter has driven more birds south than normal, Watkins said.

Accross the state line at Lake Quivira, a 200-acre lake community with about 1,000 residents in northwest Johnson County, residents have been watching dozens of bald eagles that flocked to there this winter.

People usually see a few bald eagles at Lake Quivira in the winter, but these days many more perch on trees around the lake or fly over the water. During cold spells, they gather on the lake ice to hunt waterfowl and scavenge for fish that were trapped as the water froze around them.

Residents such as Ellen Kelley have been avidly watching, photographing and videotaping the birds.

“We’re thrilled with them,” said Kelley. “Our lake community has been awarded the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Certificate year after year, but as any bird watcher will tell you, this is a rare and unusual sight.”

Kelley posted a

video of the eagles to YouTube

, which has been played more than 1,100 times and and has been featured on local TV news. (Find the video by searching YouTube for “Lake Quivira eagles.”)

“I took the video from my living room window,” Kelley said. “There are just dozens of them sitting in trees by the lake.”

Mike Cooper of Lake Quivira, a world birder with a life list of more than 3,000 birds, said several factors have brought such large numbers of eagles to the lake, including an increase in the bald eagle population.

“Their numbers have mushroomed thanks to the banning of DDT and protection of the birds,” he said. “There were probably 20,000 in the 1990s and now there are more than 200,000.”

They are drawn to Lake Quivira because it’s near the Kansas River, Cooper said.

“The water intake rapids near the bridge at I-435 are one of the few unfrozen places where the birds can fish,” he said.

Old-growth woods that line the river provide a perfect habitat, he said.

While Lake Quivira often is partially frozen in the winter, it usually has some open water where the birds can fish.

“Our fish-rich lake and the hundreds of gulls drawn to the lake by the nearby landfill offer food sources for eagles,” Cooper said.

Fish make up 60 percent of an eagle’s diet, but they also eat waterfowl, small mammals and carrion.

Nearly every Lake Quiviran has eagle sighting stories. Resident Richard Loomis said he and his wife, Jackie, started seeing eagles when the lake began to freeze.

“We still had some open water and we’d see them out catching fish,” he said.

Loomis said he’s seen as many as 18 eagles perched in a tree outside his house. He has taken more than 100 photos of the birds.

Resident John Cotter said he is amazed by the number of bald eagles in the area.

“As a young child I never saw a bald eagle. They fascinate me.”

Andy Friesen, a wildlife biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said the Cheney Reservoir near Wichita has reported large numbers of eagles. “They have more than 300 eagles there,” he said. “It wouldn't surprise me if the area along the Kansas River near Lake Quivira has 300 eagles as well.”

Watkins and Friesen said bald eagles typically start heading north in mid-March, but some remain in the area.

The flock at Lake Quivira includes many brown juveniles.

“I hope some of them decide to stay here rather than return north,” Cooper said. “There are nesting pairs along the Kaw River and at Clinton Lake. It would be great to have some here.”

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