A pair of nesting bald eagles is growing a new family close to Columbus.

The nesting pair was recently spotted by Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop and Dave Hayward, the city’s executive director of public works and city engineer.

Lienhoop said the pair has chosen a spot along the Flat Rock River that meanders through and around downtown Columbus.

It turns out these eagles aren’t the only nesting pair in Bartholomew County. Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources reports four eagles nests in the county, three of which have been reported as active.

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The fourth Bartholomew County nest, which has not been checked by DNR officers since 2010, is listed as unknown as far as activity, said Allisyn Gillet, a DNR non-game bird biologist based in Bloomington.

The spotting of the nest on the Flat Rock near Columbus is a new sighting for a nesting pair, Gillet said.

However, there is an eagle’s nest that has been reported in Mill Race Park in previous years, and this could be a clue that the nesting pair there decided to move — to have two nests from which to choose, Gillet said.

Most eagles carve out about a mile of territory size between nests, and the distance between those two nests would fit that, she said. However, eagles have been known to sometimes build a new nest nearby and then decide from year to year which one they prefer, she said.

Sometimes, eagles will build and move to a new nest if they have been unsuccessful in raising young in the previous home, Gillet said.

The nest that Lienhoop and Hayward spotted is definitely in use by a nesting pair of eagles, who flew out of it as a photographer approached, and flew over the area surrounding the nest.

The two are among 300 pairs that have been identified in Indiana as continuing to nest in the state, with 157 nests considered in good shape that are being continually monitored, Gillet said.

Most often, eagles in Indiana will look for a large tree, such as a sycamore, that is near a large body of water, and build their nest near the center trunk of the tree, high in the air, Gillet said. The nest, so large it is visible from a distance when leaves aren’t on trees, is made up of sticks as its foundation with the center cup of the next filled in with smaller sticks and dry grass to incubate the chicks, she said. The huge nests are typically 5 to 6 feet wide and about 2 feet deep.

Males often stay with the nest to protect the chicks as the females go off to feed and hunt for food for the family, but the male also will go out and hunt too as necessary, she said.

Eagles look for fish as a main part of their diet most often, but they are also scavengers and will go after road kill, small mammals such as field mice or rabbits and even small birds or ducks, Gillet said.

Don’t get too close

Kathy Hershey, director of Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators in Hope, cautioned local residents from attempting to get close to or even watch or photograph any of the nesting eagle pairs in Bartholomew County, as humans bothering the eagles can cause them to want to leave the area.

Utopia has two injured bald eagles that it shares with the community through outreach events where visitors may learn more about the raptors and get an up-close look at them, Hershey said.

Both of the male eagles were injured by being hit by cars, one in Wyoming and the other in northern Indiana, and can’t be released in the wild because of their injuries, Hershey said.

Duncan the eagle is just learning to be comfortable in presentations and is working on glove-training and to be held by a handler, while Loki the eagle is a natural and loves being around humans, Hershey said.

During Utopia Wildlife’s First Saturday’s program, which begins this year at 1 p.m. May 6, weather permitting, visitors can see Loki up close and learn about eagles and their habitat, Hershey said.

“We encourage everyone to come and see them here rather than finding them in the wild,” Hershey said.

Bald eagle relocation

Bringing bald eagles back to Indiana began in 1985 when DNR began efforts to release 73 bald eaglets, obtained from Wisconsin and Alaska, to be released 10 at a time into the Lake Monroe area near Bloomington.

Two eagles remain from that original release, a female labeled as C43, who was in the fourth group of 10 who were released and was spotted twice in 2015 in the Lake Monroe area.

According to DNR records, C43 was removed from a nest in Whitestone Harbor, Alaska, on July 22, 1988, which DNR says makes her at least 27 years old and one of the oldest bald eagles in Indiana. DNR officials determined she is still raising young, according to the state agency’s website.

“It’s really cool that she stuck around,” Gillet said of C43’s fondness for the Monroe County area.

An eagle of unknown gender labeled C14, who was in the second set of 10 that was released, was found with a broken wing east of Worthington on private property, and now resides in the Indiana Raptor Center in Nashville, Gillet said.

Whether the nesting pair of eagles in Columbus will continue to stay there is an unknown, but most eagles tend to imprint and stay in an area after building a nest there, she said.

DNR officers are looking into just how loyal eagles can be to the area where they are born and how much they imprint on the original territory they learn from their first nest, she said.

Indiana’s program is so successful that some chicks are not returning to Indiana because they need to travel further to define their own territory when they are ready to nest, she said. Of the original group of eaglets released in Indiana, DNR has tracked some of the eagles as far as New York, although some of them returned to Indiana to nest, Gillet said.

With the success of the eagle-introduction program, the DNR no longer is banding eaglet chicks when they hatch, but does monitor some nests to determine how many are being born and the nesting pairs mating success, Gillet said.

That monitoring is also a way to continue to check on Indiana’s environmental health, as fish and water supplies contaminated with mercury and DDT led to the eagle population waning prior to the reintroduction of the raptors in 1985.

“With the success the eagles are having in reproducing, they must be eating healthy fish,” Gillet said. “Bald eagles are our sentinels — our thermometer for the environment. The birds will tell us if something is wrong.”

See an eagle -- up close

To learn more about eagles, their habitat and to see one up close, check out Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators First Saturdays program, which begins at 1 p.m. May 6, weather permitting, at Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators, 18300 E. County Road 200N, Hope. Phone: 812 546-6318

For more information on Utopia, visit https://utopiarehab.wixsite.com/utopia

How eagles returned to Indiana

To learn more about how Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources repopulated eagles into the state, visit: in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3383.htm

Learning about eagles

Here are some interesting things to know about eagles, the national bird of the United States:

  • The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been the U.S. national bird since 1782.
  • Larger than most raptors, the bald eagle holds its large, broad wing span of 6.5 to 7 feet flat, and have white feathered heads and a white tail. Young birds gain plumage at about age 5.
  • Males and females are identical in color and may live as long as 38 years in the wild.
  • Males weigh 8 to 9 pounds; females weigh 10 to 14 pounds.
  • Eagles can fly up to 40 mph when in normal flight, but can reach speeds of 100 mph when diving for prey.
  • Bald eagles have been in Indiana since the 1890s, although became an endangered species due to hunting and use of pesticides.
  • Eagles mate for life and return each year to the same location to nest and breed, often selecting nest sites close to where they were raised.
  • Eagles have excellent eyesight and can locate prey up to 2 miles away.

— Information provided by Indiana Department of Natural Resources

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.