More bald eagles have been seen in Phoenix area

PHOENIX - Bald eagles are moving into the Valley more and more.

On a bright sunny day in the west Valley, a male bald eagle flapped it's way across a corn field as several scientists watched. It's massive nest of carefully intertwined twigs towered above the farm and roads below - perched high in an ancient dead tree.

Probably areas they didn't expect to be in, but here they are," said Kurt Licence, a bird and mammal biologist with Arizona Game and Fish. 

America's living, breathing symbol of freedom is normally soaring high over untamed wilderness northeast of the Valley.  But the birds' traditional territory along the Lower Salt and Verde Rivers is now the densest collection of bald eagles in Arizona. 

"They’re nesting so close together out there that there’s no room for another pair to move in.  So they’re being forced to look just outside of that area which brings them right into Phoenix," said Kenneth Jacobson, the raptor management coordinator with Arizona Game and Fish.
    
That journey into the city creates a problem.  Power lines are the biggest concern with the eagle's immense six foot wingspan.  When the birds perch on power poles they are able to spread their wings and make contact with two lines at the same time. 

"Which is usually fatal for the bird," said Lesly Swanson, senior environmental scientist with the Salt River Project.

 So a few weeks ago, SRP and AZ Game and Fish started tracking the urban eagles. They outfit youngsters with a tiny solar powered GPS pack. 

"For our purposes as humans it would be like having an empty backpack on," said Jacobson.

The GPS pack relays data that tells the scientists where the birds are flying or resting at any given moment.

"With the hope that we will get data on where these birds are hanging out [and] if they’re using electrical equipment," said Swanson.

She said power lines near eagle habitat can be eagle proofed to prevent the birds from accidentally electrocuting themselves.

The scientists can also keep tabs on the birds and know if they stop moving -- a sign of trouble. That's exactly what happened earlier this spring when two juvenile bald eagles got trapped in heavy equipment at a cement plant in the west Valley. Game and fish rescuers were able to follow the GPS signal and save the birds.

"They would have absolutely died if we didn't find them," said Licence. They're in a situation where they couldn't get any food."

So far, there are five nesting pairs in metro Phoenix. That works out to roughly 20 individual birds when you factor in the offspring.

"These young birds are going to be the sentinels for us," said Jacobson. "They're going to identify those spots in the city that are working as eagle habitat."

While the bald eagles are spectacular to look at, the experts want people to remember that eagles are protected by federal law. Disturbing the birds or their nest is a crime and people should always stay at least 500 feet back. 

SRP has a hotline you can call for any eagle (or other bird related) issues dealing with electrical equipment or preservation - 602-236-BIRD (2473)

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