By John Carey
Lucky Jones Park visitors may spot a spectacular, welcome sight soaring along Spring Creek.
With towering trees, fresh water, and an abundance of fish and wildlife, Jones Park provides an inviting habitat to the iconic bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).
Although Americans recognize the bald eagle as our national bird, few know the specifics about this majestic creature.
Bald eagles are considerably large, weighing between 6 and 14 pounds with a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet. Although known for their white heads and tails, bald eagles do not develop this classic look until they are 4 to 5 years old.
Like most birds of prey, eagles hunt from above and possess an innate ability to calculate precise attack angles. They feed on smaller creatures, but prefer catching fish with their impressive talons. When they spot a smaller bird, they swoop down and snatch their victim by the wing or in mid-flight. While hunting fish, eagles can compensate for the diffraction of light to grab their target beneath the water’s surface.
Eagles range from Canada to northern Mexico. Birds that live north of their range will migrate south in the winter and return north in the spring and summer. Most Texas eagles remain in the state year-round, although some migrate short distances.
The resident eagles of Jones Park spend most of their time in the park. Staff naturalists found that the eagles leave the park for a few weeks out of the year, indicating that they most likely do not travel far.
Naturalists also monitor nesting pairs in the park. Unfortunately, a nesting pair failed to produce young two years in a row. The nest was destroyed in 2019, when a woodpecker made an extensive cavity just below the bird’s nest. Eagle nests are large and heavy, and the pine tree had been dead for more than a year. A combination of the weight on the dead tree’s crown and heavy wind gusts from a passing storm caused the tree to break at the hollow point and the nest to fall.
Although losing the nest was unfortunate, we are lucky that our national bird is no longer on the brink of extinction. Before protective legislation went into effect, habitat loss from urbanization, a lack of prey, eagle hunting to protect livestock, and the extensive use of the pesticide DDT caused eagle populations to dwindle over the past two centuries.
But with changing public attitudes, bald eagles have rebounded. Not only are they no longer an endangered species, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service now considers them to be a species of least concern.
Although eagle populations have significantly rebounded, their habitat is still declining, making forested areas like Jones Park vital havens in predominately urban areas.
So if you find yourself at Jones Park, keep your eye to the sky. You may be lucky enough to see an eagle flying overhead or eating a fish on the sandy banks of Spring Creek.