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Christmastime wildlife sightings are gifts to remember

December 25, 2010

Haliaectus leucocephalus is the Latin name for the American Bald Eagle. It means white headed sea eagle. Luckily for many Iowans, the bald eagle is a common winter visitor as birds that were once scattered over a wide range of Canadian lakes last summer must go somewhere else to find food. That is part of the reason you will see this large raptor along the Iowa River.

While fish make up 60 to 90 percent of the diet of bald eagles, other foods of opportunity are not above its dignity. Deer carcasses, road killed raccoons, opossums, or squirrels will suffice to provide the energy the bird needs.This scribe uses the internal organs from my archery deer kills as a food source for eagles and as potential photography subjects from a nearby blind. The eagles will completely use most of the deer parts. Nothing goes to waste.

Winter time also means the eagles are likely to be more sociable, tolerating their own kind in close quarters. During summer nesting season, fiercely defended territories keep other eagles away It is a process to help insure enough food for a nesting pair of eagles. This winter, this scribe encourages readers of this column to take a road trip to Red Rock and the Pella area. Look below the dam at Red Rock for trees full of eagles. They will be watching for shad, a little fish that has been stunned by its passage through the flood gates of the dam. Each little fish is another bite to eat.

Article Photos

The majestic Bald Eagle is one impressive bird. Today’s photo was an unplanned opportunity that came together. While driving a back county road, I spied the soaring eagle headed to a farm grove. Luckily, I was driving toward that same grove. My trusty and always available camera was ready. When I stopped, the eagle had just landed on an upper tree branch. I squeezed off several frames and today’s image was made as the eagle took off again, using its powerful and large wings to grab big chunks of air for liftoff.The wingspan of an adult eagle can be 6.5 feet to 8 feet wide.

Eagle feet and toes have tiny scales called spicules that assist in grasping slippery fish. And then there are the talons, the big curved needle sharp ends of the toes that can encircle a fish or puncture the fish skin to obtain a powerful grip. Eagle eyes are much more powerful than those of humans. They can see things more sharply by a factor of at least 4 to 8 times and from great distances. The eye is somewhat shaded by supra-orbital ridges, bony extensions of the skull, that overhang the eye socket and provide protection when catching or handling prey.

The eagle camera, a remote 24 hours per day device on a tree near the Decorah, IA fish hatchery, will be upgraded this winter. Last year's audiences via home computers overloaded the system many times. Literally millions of hours were spent by people engrossed with the pair of eagles, their egg laying and incubation and then the raising of three chicks to fledgling status. People from all over the earth were typing in the web address to watch IA eagles in action. In 2011, the eagles can be expected to bring in new sticks and twigs to add to the nest as soon as February.

And lastly on my eagle notes of the day is this tidbit: An eagle leg band was retrieved from a bird that was apparently hit and killed by a car near Two Harbors, Minn. on October 6, 2010. A passing motorist saw the bird and noted its banded leg. They took only the band and submitted it to authorities. A double take at the US Fish & Wildlife offices soon began as they confirmed the story this band would tell. The eagle was banded as a nestling 32 years and 4 months before its death. The banding took place on June 18, 1978 near Minong, MN, part of an area known for its 'hawk ridge' topography and concentration of migrating raptors. The bird bander was a man named David Evans who climbed the tree to attach the bands to the eagle nestlings. How about that?


Iowa game wardens have been a busy lot. They have worked hard and long on all types of cases during the Iowa deer season. Since Iowa's reputation for quality deer is known across the nation, it brings out the best...and sometimes the worst ... in human behaviors. For those that hunt deer a lot, we already know that a few big bucks are out there and some will be taken by hunters. But there is not a new record buck lurking behind every tree, as some TV videos might seem to imply.

Still the bad guys have to see what they can do. And conservation officers want the public to know that they are catching many of the wrong doers. "Wildlife belongs to everyone. When you have people out there taking wildlife illegally, they are essentially stealing from the public" said Southwest Iowa Law Enforcement Supervisor Mark Sedlmayr. Publicity about the cases officer make helps to deter crime taking activities. Add to that are the penalties for conviction. Bad guys may loose hunting privileges in IA and 34 other states that are part of the Wildlife Compact Agreement.

Hunters that abide by the laws want the bad guys caught and prosecuted. Ditto for the general population at large. Here are a few examples of recent cases. Ten individuals were ticketed for putting out corn in front of blinds and using high powered rifles in addition to shotguns to take deer. Baiting is illegal in Iowa.

Case number 2: Four individuals from Louisiana were cited for taking deer without licenses, shooting bucks with antlerless tags or buying tags from Iowans to cover them. An Iowan was buying tags for the out-of-staters in this conspiracy and had been doing so for several years. Not any more.

Case number 3: This involved people from Louisiana and Mississippi. They killed buck deer and tagged them with antlerless licenses they got from local people. They had also taken deer illegally in Missouri. Lots of charges have been made in both states and a huge amount of restitution money is going to have to be paid.

And case number 4: Turtles were the target in this multi-year investigation where buying and selling was taking place in western IA. The case started small but grew in proportion with tentacles in California and China. A large amount of money was being made off of the wildlife of Iowa in illegal sales and other actions.

These few examples illustrate the depth of work that conservation officers get involved with. One single TIP call may grow and grow into investigations taking three or four years to wrap up. Telephone calls with game wardens in other states consume endless hours to coordinate and gather facts. Ultimately when arrests are made, a huge pile of investigative paperwork supports the charges and the courts have an opportunity to see how extensive criminal actions may become involving illegal methods of take for wildlife.


Merry Christmas to all of you in T-R land. And may your 2011 be another grand year to enjoy the pleasures of Iowa's outdoor natural beauty and its wildlife.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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