American bald eagles winter here in the Big Bear Valley, given our location along the Pacific Migratory Flyway and the millions of ducks (which are food for the eagles), which pass through the San Bernardino mountains. In order to track the eagles, the U.S. Forest Service has conducted winter counts since 1978 and, as of this month’s one-hour eagle census in this, the program’s 31st year, four eagles were observed in the Big Bear Lake and Baldwin Lake areas. Of these, three were adult eagles (as indicated by the white head and tail) and one was a juvenile (given its brown head and tail); Forest Service biologists note that, for young eagles, it usually takes four to five years to acquire full adult coloration. Eagles tend to stay near Big Bear Lake and surrounding areas—including Lake Arrowhead, Lake Hemet and Silverwood Lake—through late March, before returning to summer homes in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Alberta, Canada. If you’d like to see an American bald eagle, experts recommend looking in the tallest trees near the lakeshore and, when the lake is partially frozen (as it is now), eagles can be viewed perching on the ice near small groups of ducks using open water pockets; it is also best to limit movements and noise while watching the eagles, so biologists suggest doing so from a vehicle. Volunteers are welcome to join San Bernardino National Forest biologists for future eagle counts, which will take place on Saturday mornings: January 9, February 13 and March 13. As of last winter season, the Forest Service’s final eagle count indicated that five had wintered here at Big Bear and Baldwin Lakes while, back in the 1983/84 season, as many as 28 eagles were spotted in the Big Bear Valley.
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