Excitement is building over a pair of Standley Lake bald eagles that will hopefully have two eggs hatching early next week.
The eggs were laid five weeks ago.
The Standley Lake Eagle Cam Facebook group, which has 6,000 members, is filled with photos, videos and observations from devoted followers. Eagles have been nesting at Standley Lake since 1993, and the Eagle Cam was installed by the city of Westminster four years ago, but their legion of fans grew significantly last year after a new female showed up, attacked the female that had been living in the nest — known as Mom — and apparently ran Mom off.
At first, the male of the nest, known as Dad, didn’t get along with the newcomer (named F420 because she is a female who showed up in April 2020). But before long, the two displayed signs of mating behavior, and after the nest blew down in a windstorm last December, they built a new one together.
Mom laid three eggs before last year’s attack, but only one hatched, and that eaglet was carried off by a magpie while Dad and F420 were away from the nest. That’s another reason fans of the Standley Lake eagles are eagerly awaiting what they hope will be a blessed event next week.
Lori Golden, a Thornton resident who created the Standley Lake Eagle Cam Facebook group in 2017 shortly after the city installed the camera, admitted to feeling “mixed emotions” because she was so attached to Mom.
“Excited that there is going to be a new bloodline,” Golden said. “And happy for Dad, because last year was pretty rough.”
Related: Standley Lake bald eagle lays two eggs after ousting the female of the nest last year
No one knows what happened to Mom, but it’s believed she survived the attack and fled, because no trace of her was ever found despite extensive searches.
“I’m hoping with all my heart she just moved on and got better and went on to a new nest,” said Golden, who witnessed last year’s attack. “That’s what my belief and my hope is.”
Golden’s connection to the Standley Lake eagles goes back to 1993, when she was grieving the loss of a son who died shortly before his second birthday. Going for walks at Standley Lake and watching the awe-inspiring eagles helped in her mourning.
“Watching them brings me peace and joy,” Golden said. “I just felt like that was something my son may have sent his mom to help her get over her grief of losing him. I feel that he is still with me there.”
That made last year’s attack exceptionally traumatic for Golden to watch. She had been alerted by members in the Facebook group that Mom and Dad were displaying highly unusual behavior, seemingly staring at something in the air above them. She figured “something pretty severe” was in the area and went to see for herself.
When she got there, she heard Mom and Dad screaming. She watched them leave the nest and fly east, Dad following Mom. Then Golden saw a third eagle.
“They did like a big loop around the lake and came back to the nest. Dad landed on the top branch above the nest. Mom landed in some branches that were off to the side in a tree, and so did the female which we know now as F420,” said Golden, pausing momentarily to let a wave of emotion pass. “F420 and Mom went up in the air together, locked their talons and went to the ground. They were on the ground fighting with their wings and their beaks and their talons. I didn’t believe it was a real thing happening. I couldn’t fathom that was transpiring.”
While some followers of the eagles resented F420 for taking over the nest just days before Mom’s eggs were supposed to hatch, Golden defends her.
“She is not a villain,” Golden said. “She is just doing what an eagle does. We don’t know what she’s been through. I think it was so much more traumatic because of the timing. The timing was just shocking.”
While the eaglets are due to hatch next week, it could be awhile before they can be seen on the Eagle Cam because they may be too small to show up over the lip of the nest.
April Estep, a raptor expert for Colorado Park and Wildlife, described what happens when eaglets are ready to hatch. They have an “egg tooth” on their beak, which they use to poke through the shell from the inside. The entire process takes hours to complete.
“The adults will sometimes roll the egg, move the egg around a little bit to help the chicks get out,” Estep said Friday before heading to Eleven Mile Reservoir, 40 miles west of Colorado Springs, to check on an imminent eagle hatch there. “It’s pretty much up to the chick to get out. If it can’t, it wasn’t healthy enough to survive in the outside world.”
Assuming all goes well, fans of the Standley Lake Eagle Cam will have lots of fun watching the eagles this summer and into the fall.
“Nestlings will first leave the nest in late June to early July, approximately 72 days after hatching,” according to the Standley Lake Eagle Cam web page maintained by the city of Westminster. “Both parents take care of the young eagles even after they leave the nest. The young will leave the area sometime before October or November, either on their own or when the parents force them out. The parents remain at Standley Lake year- round and spend the fall and winter preparing their nest for the next clutch of eggs.”
For Golden, maintaining the Standley Lake Eagle Cam Facebook group is a labor of love.
“It’s a page I want people to interact on, and learn on,” Golden said. “We try to share as much information as we can. A lot of people have never seen eagles up close. To be able to go on here and see these eagles up close with this camera, they have been thrilled to death. And the group has grown like crazy; it’s ridiculous.”
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