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Lovebirds at Aspen’s Hallam Lake?

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
ALL |

ASPEN ” The lady is no tramp, but she is a regal golden eagle found on Aspen Mountain 25 years ago with a busted wing, a broken leg and in bad condition generally.

After being nursed back to health, she has become a living icon at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), where she has lived and performed educational duties for the past quarter-century.

And lately, for the first time that anyone at ACES can remember, she apparently has a beau.



According to ACES personnel, what they believe to be a male golden eagle has been hanging around the facility, located alongside Hallam Lake and the Roaring Fork River on the north side of Aspen, for the past week or so.

The visiting eagle reportedly has been seen swooping down close to the mound of earth where the female eagle’s perch is located, and employees report that the two eagles have locked talons on more than one occasion, which is a characteristic maneuver for mating eagles.




On Monday, according to observers, the pair locked talons in a tumbling embrace much longer than any previous clinches, after which the female had to be brought inside when blood was detected on one of her talons.

The main problem, according to ACES staff, is the female eagle has not been able to fly because of the injuries she sustained a quarter of a century ago. So, while she is able to leap up and “tumble” with the other bird for a brief moment, there is doubt as to whether the raptors actually have the time to mate.

Lindsy Stinnett, the community outreach coordinator for ACES, said the visitor has never landed anywhere near the female, but tends to sit on a branch in a nearby tree, observing the female as she sits on her outdoor perch.

And when the female is brought inside for the night, the visiting eagle often hangs around near the eagle’s enclosure, as well.

“It’s a pretty new and exciting occurrence,” said Stinnett, adding there always has been concern for the female’s well-being when the other bird swoops down to make contact.

Stinnett said Tom Fisher, the man who trained the female to perch on a falconer’s glove and behave in acceptable ways when she first was brought to ACES, remains involved in her care and has visited ACES to check on the behavior of the pair.

But, according to Stinnett, Fisher is not sure what can be done other than what the staff has been doing ” keeping the situation under observation, and moving the female inside if things seem to be getting out of control.

Jim Kravitz, director of the ACES naturalist program, said the female is fine after her encounter with her visitor Monday afternoon.

And, he said, “there is the slimmest of possibilities” that the two actually can successfully mate. He said mating “can happen on the ground,” although it seems to be inextricably linked with certain “rituals in the air,” such as the locking of talons.

But seeing her mate is not ACES’ main concern, he said.

“She’s an ambassador for her species, and for predators in general,” he explained. “She has such important work to do for us. … We’re an educational institution.”

Kravitz said ACES already has taken action to keep her out of harm’s way, when coyotes and bears have come a little too close for comfort, although he maintained, “I don’t think anything is going to want to mess with her.”

But the staff already has stepped up its monitoring program, he said, and “we’re going to be keeping a close eye on her.”

The female, Kravitz said, is “an Aspen local; she’s been here longer than any of us,” referring to most of the staff at ACES.

Searching for ways to describe the ongoing relationship, which he said certainly seems like a courtship, Kravitz said, “It’s an anomaly. It’s a wild story.”

He said ACES staff is not even certain the visiting eagle is a male, noting it might even be “related by blood to the female,” since the local population of golden eagles is fairly small.

“Maybe they were just saying hello,” he speculated. “Maybe they’re long-lost brother and sister.”

Golden eagles, the national emblem of Mexico, are a fairly common sight in the Rocky Mountains, a region where their population has not been as reduced to the extent it has in other former habitats, such as the eastern U.S.

Though capable of killing large prey such as cranes, wild ungulates and domestic livestock, the golden eagle subsists primarily on rabbits, hares, ground squirrels and prairie dogs.

Among the largest avian predators on Earth, they live for an average of 20 years in the wild, according to wildlife experts.

The oldest bird in the wild reportedly lived for 32 years, and the oldest known golden eagle lived in captivity to the age of 46, according to a website maintained by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

Adult golden eagles are capable of carrying up to 8 pounds in flight, and unburdened they reportedly have been clocked flying at up to 80 mph. Their average speeds, however, are between 28 mph and 32 mph, the University of Michigan reports.

jcolson@aspentimes.com