Eagles take flight

BALD EAGLES are huge raptors having wingspans of seven to eight feet.  Because they have such a large wing area, wing beats tend to be slow, much slower than those of red-tail hawks.  Slow wing beat pattern alone is enough to distinguish a large raptor in flight as an eagle even when you view it from great distances.  Next on the list of trademark factors are to look for a white head and tail feathers for adult eagles. Immature bald eagles are less than three years old, have dark brown body plumage and dark brown to blackish beak color.  When adult, the beak becomes yellow and of course, head and tail feathers molt to grow replacement white feathers.

A bald eagle in flight, may in a glide hold its wings almost flat with little if any dihedral.  By contrast, our summer visitor Turkey Vultures soar and glide with wings held in a shallow “V,” which is the definition of dihedral.  The amount of life created by each wing is not equal unless the vulture’s body is parallel to the ground.  In any case, eagles get the job done quite well and make flying look easy.

If you have an opportunity to watch eagles below river dams where open water exists during the height of winter cold, you may see them swoop down in a dive getting closer and closer to the waters surface.  Then at just the right time, the legs and open talons are brought forward, plunged into the water to grasp a fish just under the surface, and then fly away to a nearby tree to eat the fish.  The sight of a fish capture does not go unnoticed by other eagles. There may be fierce competition to steal the fish away if possible. Honor and etiquette for who caught the fish in the first place goes out the window.  Eagle to eagle theft is entirely within the bounds of how these raptors behave.

Eagle nests within Marshall County are now much more conspicuous since the foliage of the forest trees has fallen away. Winter hikes through forest settings may reveal eagle nests to you.  The amount of branches amassed to form the nest is quite large.  That in itself will distinguish the eagle nest from other raptor species.

According to Mike Stegmann, Director of the Marshall County Conservation Board, at least eight nest sites for eagles are known.  There could be other eagle nest sites not reported to him.  It is safe to say that the Bald Eagle population is in good shape as it continues to grow.

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DEER HUNTERS during shotgun season one had warm days to begin with last weekend. By Wednesday the meaning of cold air and cold wind was in full force.  Hunters had to be bundled up in the warmest of clothes to avoid frostbite to exposed skin.  Many hunters did their best to overcome weather conditions.  At midweek the tally of the DNR website showed a registered deer kill total of about 60,000 since the beginning of the archery and youth seasons in late September and early October.  That total was about 30,000. So by this mid week, an additional 30,000 deer were removed from the landscape.  Yesterday and today are the opening weekend for shotgun deer season number two which will end next weekend on Dec. 18. Total deer take should be pushing 90,000 by that time.

Here are some deer facts and trivia to think about.  My source for these factoids is the Quality Deer Management Association who have amassed more than 40 years of research in their quest for knowledge about white-tail deer. Many of these points of interest are the result of game watching trail cameras and/or combinations with neck collars sending GPS signals to researchers laptop computers.

Long ago the value of a deer’s hide for leather was set at one dollar.  That is why today our nickname for a one dollar bill is one buck.  Next on the list is the finding that a doe deer’s triplet fawns may all have different sires, two sires or one sire.  It all depends on how and when the doe was bred the previous fall.  The average birth weight of a female fawn is 5.5 pounds while the average for male fawns is 7.5 pounds.  The highest mortality for new fawns is from coyote, bobcats and in some ranges black bears. Death rates can go as high as 55 percent from coyotes at fawning times. And coyotes have a knack for knowing when adult does will give birth and switching to finding and eating fawns.

Fifteen percent of adult doe deer will have triplet fawns. Young of the year does will have one fawn and after that, twins are the rule for the bulk of the doe population.  A deer’s vision is at least 20 times more acute to blue wavelengths of light than human eyes.  During a normal life span, about seven years if there is no predation or low hunting pressure, a doe or buck deer can produce 35 offspring.  Deer can run at 40 miles per hour and swim at 13 miles per hour.  When it comes to the nose of deer, they are easily 100 times better than humans to distinguish between odors.  Deer eyes can see and detect motion in a range of 310 degrees without moving its head.  What the deer cannot see can be compensated for with ears that rotate to fill in the gaps behind them. Deer will eat 500 different plant species as they browse the landscape.

Another study tried to determine if pen-raised whitetails with known genetics for big antler growth could be released into the wild with the hypothesis that free-ranging buck deer might in the long run grow larger antlers in wild deer.  Well, the results showed that to get just one inch of additional antler had a cost of $115,000.  In other words, Nature has this item already taken care of.  The Mississippi State University study says that the time and trouble are not worth it.

So there you have it, a bit of deer trivia to start conversation with other hunters, or to debunk myths from backroom, backyard, bar room, truck stop, water cooler or coffee shop “biologists” that just like to hear themselves talk. Facts matter.

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DEER HIDES are worth more than one dollar today.  There are plenty of uses for well tanned deer leather and that is why the Elks Lodge #312 has provided collection stations in Marshalltown.  Hunters can donate deer hides to the Elks at containers located at Kwik-Star on South 6th and 3rd Street or East Side Tire at 1206 E Main St.  Deer hides and deer tails are used to support veterans leather craft projects.  One prime use of deer hide is for gloves to wear while operating wheel chairs. Other leather kits use the soft and pliable deer skins. In 2013-14, over 16,000 deer hides were collected from Elks Lodges in 21 states.  Way to go Elks Lodge members. Thank you.

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PHOTO CONTEST entries are due by Jan. 31, 2017 at the Marshall County Conservation Board office located at the Grimes Farm.  Categories for entries are Scenic, Native Wildlife, Native Plants, Open Nature and a new category … Trail Camera. I can attest to the trail camera fun aspects as raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyote or deer get caught in the act of raiding bird feeders, or interacting with each other at secret spots where cameras are set up.  The other photo categories always produce some fantastic works by local camera buffs.  Judging the entries becomes a monumental task. Winners in each division will get a $20 gift certificate.  Check you files from outdoor forays of this past year, find what you think is best, and enter the picture.  You could be a winner. Or you will never know unless you try.  Have fun.  After the judges make the call of winners, the public will be invited to an Awards night and Chili Supper at the Grimes Farm on Feb. 7 from 6-7 p.m.  All you can eat chili, good fellowship and great photos to see will be offered.  A running slide show of past winners will be shown to help entertain the crowd.

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“Courage is contagious.  When a brave person takes a stand, the spines others are stiffened.”

— Billy Graham


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.