NEBRASKAland June 2016

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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72 NEBRASKAland • JUNE 2016 W hen the fox comes near the hen house, the hens tend to make quite a racket. Imagine if the fox moved in? Something along those lines happened in 2014 in rural Lancaster County when a pair of bald eagles commandeered a nest in a blue heron rookery, added on and began nesting. That first nesting attempt resulted in eggs that apparently never hatched, as the adults were seen incubating in March but left in April before chicks were seen. That was likely much to the delight of the herons, which returned to their rookery, which had been active for a few years, in late March to find the interlopers. The eagles' second attempt in 2015 resulted in two chicks being fledged. This year's attempt may have been even more successful had high winds not blown the nest from the tree in early April, killing two to three young hatchlings. The birds have similar nest building techniques that begin with sticks laid in the crook of the upper reaches of a tree. The eagles and herons were nesting in a cypress tree, the only case in Nebraska of eagles nesting in something other than a cottonwood. Herons nest in colonies that commonly contain from 30 to 75 active nests. Both eagles and herons continue to add material to their nests during the nesting season and are apt to return year after year. Eagles' nests get much larger over time, with the largest measuring more than 12 feet wide and 20 feet tall and weighing several tons. Bald eagles arrive at nesting territories in January or February in Nebraska. Herons don't arrive at their colonies until late-March or early-April. This gives eagles the chance to usurp a nest, which they are known to do. Eagles taking over a heron nest has happened before. Joel Jorgensen, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission nongame bird biologist, knows of one such case near Nehawka. But what happened there and appears to often happen elsewhere is the herons abandon the rookery and build a new one. Which makes sense to Jorgensen. "To have an opportunistic predator that close to your offspring … which for these birds and all other animals, producing their offspring is really the most important business in their minds … that's almost like having a criminal stay over in your house and hoping he doesn't rob the place," Jorgensen said. An internet search did find another case of herons continuing to use their rookery despite the eagle's presence. Eagle Heron Nest Unlikely roommates share blue heron rookery. By Eric Fowler Eaglets test their wings as a heron returns to the rookery.

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