By Carey Restino
In mid June sandhill crane enthusiast Nina Faust fielded a report of a sandhill crane attacked mid-air by a bald eagle near mile 12 East End Road. It’s not the first time she has heard a report like this, nor the second. Numerous residents in that area have reported losses, she said, not only of cranes, but also of pets and poultry.
The problem, she said, stems from residents who choose to feed eagles, combined with an inflated eagle population left over from years of feeding on the Homer Spit.
Faust is co-founder of Kachemak Crane Watch, a group that collects data about the 200 or so cranes that live in the Homer area, such as when the cranes first arrive, when chicks are hatched and how many birds are seen.
In recent years, the group has tried to increase restrictions on feeding eagles in the Kenai Peninsula Borough – it is banned in the city of Homer – but thus far, it is still legal in the borough.
Faust said the problems created by feeding eagles go way beyond the loss of a few small dogs or a crane or two. Bears can be attracted to the neighborhoods in which eagles are being fed, she said.
Feeding eagles may be not be against the law, but it’s against state law to negligently attract bears, she noted. Not only that, if bears are attracted to a neighborhood because of eagle feeding and then attack a person or property, there are liability issues.
“It’s jut not a very smart thing to be doing,” she said. “In the end, it’s probably the eagle who will pay for it because someone will get angry and the eagle will get shot, even though that’s illegal.”
Faust said while it is part of the natural process for eagles to occasionally feed on other birds – seagulls and ravens are both an eagle meal from time to time – the inflated numbers of eagles in the area exacerbate the situation. Faust said bird counts from decades past put the winter population of eagles at 25 or so.
More recently, more than 600 eagles were spotted during the Christmas Birdcount. Some say the eagle feeding efforts of Jean Keene, who passed away in 2009, contributed to the high numbers.
“That’s an excessive number of eagles in the area, and there are still quite a lot” Faust said, adding that longtime outdoor observers have noted far more eagle nests across the Kachemak Bay than in past years.
Faust said while the sandhill crane population is stable based on rough population estimates, it is worrying to hear stories of the cranes being killed. Cranes that are being stalked by eagles sometimes leave their nests, causing eggs to go unhatched.
She said the bottom line is feeding eagles creates a lot of problems in a neighborhood.
“If you are feeding eagles, please stop,” Faust said. “You are affecting your neighbors. While there are no regulations allowing the take of bald eagles, a lot of people reach a breaking point when an eagle won’t go away and the eagle just pays in the end and it’s just not right.”
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