Mooseheart eagles lose Kane County nest due to safety concerns

For nine years their nest was a puzzle, a gift and a landmark for Chicago-area birders.

Improbably located in a dead tree above an asphalt parking lot at the Mooseheart Child City & School in Kane County, the hulking stick-and-branch structure was clearly visible from a nearby road, where fans would stop to snap photos of two stately bald eagles calmly going about the business of raising their young.

But now the 2,000-pound nest is gone, removed with federal approval on Oct. 26, after it was determined that the tree supporting it was too unstable.

“It’s better that it came down when there were no young in it,” said Cathy Pollack, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Chicago Ecological Services Office. “You could have dead eaglets or injured eaglets, and it was a human safety issue as well.”

A new bald eagle nest is being built in this pine tree on the campus of Mooseheart Child City & School Kane County. The new nest is hard to see from the road.

The loss of the nest is the latest twist in an avian soap opera once dubbed “As the Eagle Turns” by local bird-watchers. When the female and her former mate lost their nest in a storm in 2011, two eaglets were rescued, cared for and eventually released into the wild before a crowd of over 750 people, according to the Kane County Chronicle.

Then the female lost the male to a 2019 car accident, successfully raised their young as a single mom and found love again — this time with a much younger mate.

Now the new pair is rebuilding, about 100 yards northwest of the old nest, at another site on the leafy 1,000-acre Mooseheart campus.

The new nest is hard to see from the road, which is about 140 yards away. But the tree supporting the new nest — a (live) pine — can be seen, according to Dave Soderstrom, 64, of St. Charles, whose photographs of the eagles have proved popular on Facebook.

The birds build early in the morning, with the male carrying sticks and small branches, and the female bringing wood and clumps of dead grass.

“She gets the last say,” said Soderstrom, who has photographed the Mooseheart eagles thousands of times over the years. “If you see him bring stuff in, he’ll set it down and then she’ll grab it and move it where she wants it. She does more of the arranging.”

Already, the birds have what might look like a sizable nest to humans, although it’s a tiny fraction of their former home, which was about 7 feet deep.

“They have plenty of time because mama won’t lay eggs until the end of February, the first part of March,” Soderstrom said. “She’s pretty consistent with that.”

The female eagle and her former mate built their nest in the Mooseheart parking lot in 2013, according to Pollack.

The pine tree that supported the parking lot nest had been dead for many years, Pollack said, and the nest kept getting heavier, with the adult eagles adding to it every year.

The Mooseheart residential child care facility obtained a federal permit allowing the children’s home to cut the tree down, according to Pollack. That left the eagles without a nest.

But Soderstrom thought he knew what would happen next. The eagles already favored two nearby pine trees, and sure enough, they started building in one of them.

The two eagles are working well together, Soderstrom said, but when they first met, there were tensions.

When the female was widowed in 2019, she used to fly in circles, as if looking for her mate, who was struck and killed by a car.

“It was really sad to watch,” Soderstrom said at the time.

The Mooseheart bald eagles used this dead pine tree, shown in 2019, in a school parking lot as the site of their nest for nine years.
A bald eagle sits with its eaglets on the old nest at Mooseheart in 2019.

Her new suitor was missing some wing feathers when he first appeared, not long after the accident, and he didn’t cut a particularly dashing figure, Soderstrom said. The suitor would fly around the area and the female would chase him away. When he landed in a nearby tree, she would squawk at him.

But she apparently saw something in the new guy.

“One day it was the coolest thing, we’re there, and we see them flying together,” said Soderstrom, who often views the eagles with fellow birders.

Once the female’s young had left the nest, she let her suitor join her there.

“I’m sure he’s considerably younger (than she is) because his first year, he didn’t hunt much and bring fish back like she wanted. We’d see him flying by the river, and she’d be calling to him and he wouldn’t come so she’d go over there and get him and bring him back,” Soderstrom recalled.

The female would also bark at the male.

“She’d just chew him out. It was funny to watch,” Soderstrom said.

But as the male matured, he became a good hunter who brought a lot of fish home to his hungry eaglets.

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Now, with the construction of the new nest underway, he does much of the heavy lifting.

As for the female, she remains a force to be reckoned with.

Soderstrom recalled a day when she was away from the eaglets and an osprey started flying too close to the nest. The eagle watchers were worried: Where was the female? Would the osprey attack her young?

“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, mama comes out of the west flying like an F-15, and she caught up to that thing and she chased it away,” Soderstrom recalled. “She was on that thing’s tail.”

Triumphant, the eagle flew back to her nest and perched above it, standing guard.

“She’s a tough old girl,” Soderstrom said.

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