Skip to comments.Bald eagles find hibernating bear in their nest
Posted on 03/16/2004 2:42:20 PM PST by July 4th
Somewhere on the sprawling Chippewa Flowage in northern Wisconsin there's a pair of bald eagles that are mad as hell.
A furry surprise awaited a pair of bald eagles when they returned to their nest at the top of a 45-foot aspen on the Chippewa Flowage. Bears usually prefer to hibernate in caves, hollow trees or culverts.
It's just about time to lay eggs in their huge 4-foot-wide nest at the top of a 45-foot aspen. The nest is made of twigs, grass and moss and took them weeks to build.
The only problem - there's a bear slumbering peacefully in their cushy nest.
"You can imagine they're thinking, 'Now what?' " said Ron Eckstein, a state Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist who has spent many years researching bald eagles.
While bears choose a number of places to sleep out the winter - caves, overturned trees, culverts and fallen logs - it's very unusual to see them in a penthouse suite high above the ground.
In fact, on Monday DNR wildlife biologists could recall only one other documented instance in Wisconsin. That was in fall 2002, when DNR avian ecologist Pat Manthey saw a bear in an eagle's nest on the St. Croix Flowage near Gordon in Douglas County as she was doing an aerial survey of trumpeter swans.
A couple snowmobiling in Sawyer County saw the eagle nest on Dec. 31 and thought there was something inside it. They returned on New Year's Day with a camera outfitted with a telephoto lens.
"We thought maybe it was a raccoon at first. We thought something was up there, but we didn't know what," said Jennifer Ehrlichman of Hayward.
Her boyfriend used his deer hunting tree stand to climb up an adjacent tree to snap some photos. The bear stirred, and they could see its head and furry ears.
"He looked pretty sleepy. I think he wakes up enough with the snowmobiles going by underneath," said Ehrlichman, who notified DNR authorities.
Gender, size unknown
The bear's gender is not known, and its weight has been estimated at around 150 pounds, though it's hard to tell just how big it is. Most bears spend their November-to-April hibernation resting on their stomachs or sides with their legs tucked under them.
Ehrlichman's boyfriend returned to the site a few weeks ago and saw three eagles in the area, including one perched about 10 feet away from the nest, eyeing the somnolent interloper.
Eagles generally use their well-built nests as nurseries. They lay their eggs and then rear the young hatchlings in the nest, though sometimes it's also used as a platform to dine on a big, fat fish, Eckstein said.
While immature eagles, generally those 5 and younger, will head south for the winter in search of open water to fish, mating pairs are very territorial. They're reluctant to leave their area for fear of another pair horning in on their turf. So they will hang around their territory as long as possible and generally leave for only a month or so to find food when it gets cold in January before returning, Eckstein explained.
So if the bear climbed into their nest in November, it's likely they would have watched but not attacked because eagles generally don't pick quarrels with other species. Unless, of course, you're a walleye.
"If a big bear came, they wouldn't be aggressive. They'd just be - 'Oh oh,' " said Eckstein.
There are about 850 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state. Most breed in northern Wisconsin, though some now nest along the lower Wisconsin River and Mississippi River.
On the Chippewa Flowage in Sawyer County, there are 12 to 15 territories staked out by eagles, said Lowell Tesky, a DNR wildlife technician in Hayward who surveys the eagle population there each year.
Though most eagles choose pine trees for their nests, some build them in aspen. That stretch of the Chippewa Flowage is filled with big aspens because there's no tree cutting allowed along the shoreline. Tesky has spent the last 16 years working out of the Hayward DNR office, and he was surprised to learn about the bear's hibernation spot.
"That's got to be a real cold way to spend the winter. They do lay on the ground in a nest of leaves sometimes, but up there (in the eagle nest) it's got to be cold in the winter," Tesky said.
With all the sleeping spots it could have chosen on terra firma, it's a mystery why this bear chose to scramble up a tree. Mike Gappa, a retired DNR bear ecologist, suspects it's a young animal because they're smaller and more inquisitive than older bears.
"Why that little devil went to the eagle's nest, it's hard to say. Maybe this animal in the past has had some disturbance on the ground" during hibernation and chose to climb up a tree, Gappa said.
Gappa pointed out that bears don't actually sleep during hibernation. They're aware of what's going on around them, but their metabolism slows down and they don't eat, drink, urinate or defecate.
Eckstein has climbed into hundreds of eagle nests while researching the bird over the decades and has seen bear claw marks on aspen bark underneath nests, but never a bear.
Not time to wake up
With 20 inches of snow still on the ground in Sawyer County, wildlife biologists are not expecting the bear to wake up, stretch, scratch and climb down any time soon. Depending on weather conditions, bears generally come out of hibernation in April.
This bear is in good company. Though he may be the only one known to spend the winter swaying above the ground in a bird's nest, there are 1.4 bears per square mile in that area, said Ken Jonas, the DNR wildlife supervisor for the Upper Chippewa area. The state's black bear population has fluctuated between 11,000 and 14,000 in the last few years.
Jonas is worried that people will find out the bear's location and try to wake it up. He pointed out that it's against the law to disturb a hibernating bear. Entering the den of a bear in hibernation carries a maximum penalty of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.
"We frequently have bears walking around in late March. They often go back to the den and sleep it off," said Jonas. But "if they're disturbed before they're ready to come out, they use up too much energy."
The bear is the evil Russian and the Eagle's nest is America!!! We're going to be overtaken!!! Run for the hills!!!
Could you imagine if the Bald Eagles battled the Bear? The Sierra Club/PETA/Greenpeace people's heads would explode.
No conservatives/Republican's to blame....what will they do? Maybe they could send each animal to species based sensitivity training.
Wouldn't be fun otherwise, would it?
Minorities and women hit hardest.
My prediction; Philadelphia Eagles 28, Chicago Bears 6
Or we eat you.
BTW it was the only place where I could get decent reception for my laptop.:)
Hey Lowell...if you read this how ya doing?....great guy that Lowell...wildlife fanatic since he was a kid...we played on the same grade school football team together..
lived in the same neighborhood..Junior High & High School together...
his whole family...good people... I always wondered what happened to Lowell
...now thirty five yrs later...I find out....on FR... Cool....
No, it's just one of the Chicago Cubs trying to see what it feels like at the top.
I mean in this case, a #150 bear spends the entire winter in a pile of sticks atop a 75' windwhipped tree and the structure is solid after months of tossing and turning! The only thing holding the nest together is the selection, placement, and interlock of kindling wood.
Nature sure has some fine builders.
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