Apparently there are no more hard feelings in Colorado’s most famous bald eagles’ nest, despite the domestic disturbance that captivated Westminster and environs last spring.
Last week at the Standley Lake Regional Park & Wildlife Refuge, a female known as F420 laid an egg, the product of a union with a male whose previous mate fled the nest last spring. Not that the former female of the nest had much choice after F420 attacked her, took over the place and sent her packing, never to be seen again.
That drama was closely followed via Westminster’s Eagle Cam, which focuses on the nest 24/7 and has night vision. Now fans of the Standley Lake bald eagles are eagerly awaiting the emergence of the new eaglet, which should occur in about four weeks. F420 laid a second egg Tuesday evening. Video of both happy events is posted on the park’s Facebook page.
The male and his former mate are known at Standley Lake as Dad and Mom. The usurping bird, F420, got her name because the F stands for female and she showed up in April 2020. For some observers, it was a sad day, and there was an eyewitness to her home-wrecking mission.
“Someone was observing the nest from the road and saw her, Mom and Dad get into a fight,” said Lexie Sierra-Martinez, the park’s naturalist. “Mom didn’t come back. At first, we thought Mom came back the next day, but then after going over a lot of cam footage, we assessed that it was really F420.”
Sitting in the nest, acting like she owned the place.
F420 wasn’t a welcome addition to the neighborhood at first. Some folks called her Jolene, after the Dolly Parton song in which a woman pleads with another to leave her man alone.
“There’s a lot of negativity around her,” Sierra-Martinez said, “but she’s just trying to survive, as wild animals do.”
With Mom gone, Dad sat on the eggs that Mom had already delivered.
“Dad took over full incubating duties,” Sierra-Martinez said. “He was still really upset with F420, so he was continuing to fight her off.”
An egg hatched on Easter. But then there was a major snowstorm, and the eaglet that hatched died while Dad was away defending the nest.
“That was on camera,” SIerra-Martinez said. “The next day a magpie took the little baby body out. It was really upsetting, so everyone was really mad with F420. We had people calling the nature center, crying. People are really invested. We’re an urban park. People really care about the eagles. Having the camera, you are able to get a close-up view into their lives. You form bonds.”
Pretty soon, though, Dad decided he was open for a new relationship after all, and he started “bonding” with F420. Within two weeks, they were displaying mating behaviors.
“I think Dad knew that Mom wasn’t coming back,” Sierra-Martinez said. “He had to make the best of the situation so that he can continue to have offspring, and it didn’t look as if F420 was going anywhere.”
Bald eagles, Sierra-Martinez said, “are usually monogamous to a certain extent,” but occasionally they will cheat on their mates.
“It’s usually the female, though,” Sierra-Martinez said. “A lot of times they mate just for bonding, and not to produce a fertilized egg.”
Because this really is a televised reality show, avid fans get to see them mate on camera. They are expecting to see more.
“We have a lot of fans watching the nest pretty diligently,” Sierra-Martinez said.
Standley Lake is good eagle habitat because the lake is huge, ranking as the third-largest reservoir in the metro area, and the primary food source for bald eagles is fish. The area around the nest on the northwest end of the park has been closed to the public since eagles first started nesting there in 1993, but there is an eagle blind located a short hike from the nature center where visitors can view the nest from about a half-mile away.
Binoculars are recommended. There also is a dog park just north of Standley Lake Park that affords a view of the nest from across a road, about a quarter of a mile away. Signs posted along the road say, “Bald eagle nesting area; keep out,” warning that “Trespassers will be cited.”
Sierra-Martinez expects F420 to lay one or two more eggs this season. Nestlings likely will leave the nest about 72 days after hatching. Dad and F420 are expected to care for their offspring for awhile after they leave the nest, but the kids can be expected to leave the area for good in the fall. If they don’t leave on their own, their parents will force them out.
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