Standley Lake eaglets die, Barr Lake nest collapses but Xcel Fort St. Vrain bald eagles are thriving

Life and death dramas continue to play out in the Front Range’s best-known bald eagle nests.

Officials at Standley Lake Regional Park reported this week that two eaglets in the nest there had succumbed to unknown causes. Elsewhere, a nest covered by a pair of cameras at the Xcel Fort St. Vrain power generating facility contains two thriving eaglets, although a third egg there did not hatch. Eagle lovers can watch the parents feeding those adorable eaglets via the Xcel Energy Eagle Cams on YouTube.

And, at Barr Lake State Park near Brighton, a cottonwood tree holding an active bald eagle nest blew down on April 6, a year and a day after the same thing happened in 2021.

The Standley Lake eagle couple also lost an eaglet last year when the tree holding their nest collapsed and the nest crashed to the ground. That nest was covered by the Standley Lake Eagle Cam, which had a huge following in the online community. The new nest being used by that couple now is not covered by a camera, but monitors for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies keep it under surveillance.

According to park authorities, the two deceased eaglets there were 2-3 weeks old and seemed to be doing fine before their unexplained demise.

“This past week, we noticed that there was no activity at the nest,” according to a post on the park’s Facebook page. “F420 (the mother) was seen feeding herself, but was not offering food to anything in the nest, which seemed odd. No eaglets were seen during four different observations over a 24-hour period. The parents had been seen at the nest tree, but were not spending any time on the nest, which means they were no longer tending to eaglets.”

Matt Smith, an avian ecologist with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, said the cause of death may never be known.

“It’s fairly common that eaglets die for reasons that can’t be easily determined,” Smith said. “It could be anything from choking on bones to avian influenza. Eagles are very vulnerable when they’re young. If the weather is too cold, and the adults are away from the nest for too long, that could be enough to cause hypothermia. When they are that young, it doesn’t take much for them to succumb to a minor injury or infection or exposure to the elements.”

Smith said the two eaglets at Fort St. Vrain appear to be doing well, based on his observation via the eagle cameras there.

“From what I see, we have a pair of attentive parents,” Smith said. “They’re growing quickly. The nest is in good condition. They seem to be getting roughly equal amounts of food from the parents. I don’t see bullying going on, which is something you can see happen sometimes with eagles. They’re coming along nicely.”

As for the loss of the third egg, Smith said it’s not uncommon for a female to lay three eggs with only one or two hatching. It may not have been fertilized, or there could be another explanation.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 95 known bald eagle nests in the Front Range were occupied last year. Eaglets hatched at 81% of those nests and 75% “fledged” at least one eaglet. To fledge means the juvenile eagle has become capable of flight.

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