CHICAGO — Are bald eagles back in Chicago?
If they're not within city limits, they certainly have been very close lately, according to experts and local bird watchers.
“The Urban Wildlife Institute has been hearing reports of bald eagles being sighted within Cook County recently, which is somewhat unusual," said Seth Magle, Director of Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute.
Magle speculates the mild winter has left a lot of open water for fishing, which has created opportunities for bald eagles to hunt locally.
"It should be a reminder to people throughout Chicago that we live in a complex ecosystem, one that provides habitat for wildlife as well as people," Magle said.
Journey North, a nonprofit that allows registered users to submit wildlife sightings on a map, has had three unconfirmed bald eagle sightings this year: in suburban Libertyville, Flossmoor and Darien.
That doesn't surprise officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Division, who noted "bald eagle sightings in or around Chicago are very likely."
The bald eagle was once common in northeastern Illinois but was no longer a breeding species within the region by the early 1900s. The bird was once an endangered species but was upgraded to threatened and, in 2007, was taken off both lists. The bald eagle is still protected under the provisions of the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits anyone from harming or disturbing the birds.
Illinois has become a hotbed for the bald eagle's wintering population; in 2014, the state trailed only Alaska's numbers, according to the Tribune. In the last few years, nesting pairs have been spotted in Lake County and a few miles outside the city in Palos Township. Bald eagles nest in the winter in warmer climates like Louisiana, but get closer to states like Illinois in the spring.
A nesting pair even lives on Lake Calumet, though the eagles have not laid eggs there, said Cathy Pollack, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bald eagles first returned to the area in 2004, when two of them built a nest along the Little Calumet River in Chicago, Pollack said.
"In Cook County, we currently have three 'active' bald eagle nests, meaning they are laying eggs probably as we speak," Pollack said in an email. All nests are protected.
In the lower 48 states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are almost 10,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles, including 100 in Illinois.
If you see a nest, don't get too close. As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes: "To lessen the potential for nest abandonment, please do not approach within 150 yards of the nest."
Seth Magle of the Urban Wildlife Institute talks about the resurgence of bald eagles and making cities more habitable for other wildlife.
Check out a collection of bald eagle photos taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Midwest locations here and a few more pics below.
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