Alexandra Ellison and her 10-year-old daughter Ella were walking through Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis a few weeks ago when they saw an unusual sight.
“It was a fully mature bald eagle with the white head and the white tail feathers,” Ellison said. “We watched it. And it would get off the perch and hover over the lake and hang down and grab a fish and go back to the same perch.”
Ellison said neighbors have reported similar sightings. The eagle seems to frequent a large cottonwood tree.
“It was amazing, amazing that it’s been there every day, it’s started so many conversations in the neighborhood,” Ellison said, noting the bluebirds, cormorants and wood ducks that frequent the park. “People think of Powderhorn sometimes dismissively, but it’s got just tremendous wildlife.”
The University of Minnesota Raptor Center Clinic Manager Lori Arent said it used to be very rare to see eagles in urban areas. Not anymore.
Until about five years ago, Arent said the region’s eagle population was still reeling from the impacts of DDT, a chemical that almost wiped them out. As the population returned, more eagles have been competing for ever-shrinking traditional habitats.
“It’s kind of bittersweet because you want to see them and yet we’re kind of forcing them to move into urban areas,” Arent said. “Because of all the development and progress, we’ve really fragmented their habitat.”
Still, Arent said eagles are doing well as they move to the big cities.
“People’s increased knowledge of eagles has really helped a lot,” Arent said. “Eagles are protected and a lot of people know that, so they’re not approaching them too closely or anything like that. They’re observing them from afar, which isn’t threatening to the eagles at all.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that mature bald eagles can weigh up to 14 pounds and have a wingspan of eight feet. The agency estimates that there are about 10,000 pairs of eagles in the United States.
If the Powderhorn eagle builds a nest, the Raptor Center will add it to their list of active eagle nests, which they use to find new families for orphaned eagles.
Arent said most urbanites would be surprised how many eagles are flying over their cities. Not Ellison.
“It was a really, really windy day, we were walking around the lake and..my husband said ‘Oh, my God. Look up.’” Ellison said of a recent stroll. “We counted 17 eagles circling.”