A pair of bald eagles are nesting along the Levee Bike Path, south of campus near River Road and Brightside Drive.
Greg Johnson, a photographer and birdwatcher, spends a lot of time observing the eagles when they make their way to Baton Rouge.
“I’ve run into a couple other photographers and I heard that somewhere along the levee, there’s a bald eagle’s nest,” Johnson said. “I pulled into an area to park my car near the path and I saw some people and said ‘I’m looking for an eagle’s nest.'”
The nest is visible from the path and is supporting both a male and female eagle along with their eggs.
The bird was one of the first species placed on the Endangered Species List in 1973 before being removed from the list in 2007.
“The eagles have been coming back to the area for about 10 years now,” Johnson said. “The pair will come back and build a similar sized nest each year. Around the beginning of December, they come back into town from the north. They don’t like hot weather.”
Bald eagles normally search for a mate and then stick together with their significant other for the rest of their lives. After building a nest, they’ll usually return each year, adding more material to it.
Throughout the process, their nests can become large. It’s not uncommon for some nests to grow five feet across, as bald eagles build the largest bird nests in North America.
“They’ll introduce their chicks to the world usually around Christmas or New Years,” Johnson said. “It’s a really great present for people who are into that thing.”
The massive nests that bald eagles are known for don’t always remain in the same spot each year. Johnson said that this pair of eagles originally built a nest near Farr Park but then decided to move even closer to the river, likely for better hunting and fishing, he pointed out.
“I have pictures of them carrying raccoons, catfish and ducks,” he said. “A plethora of all kinds of creatures. They’ll take those creatures up there to feed their chicks.”
Johnson said he tries to get out and observe the eagles whenever he can. Considering how rare it is to see the birds, Johnson said he is glad that he gets the opportunity.
“You have to take a minute to stop and smell the roses,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to appreciate nature and all the things it has to offer.”
He said over time, the eagles have become more trusting and aren’t as hesitant to humans as they once were.
“I have a real strong connection with them,” he said. “They have a lot of pride and glory. I have a lot of respect for them.”
Although seeing the eagles can be exciting, Johnson said it requires a lot of patience. The birds operate on their own schedule and sometimes won’t come out of their nest, even if there’s a crowd to see them, he said.
“I got deemed as the eagle keeper,” Johnson said. “I make time for them. I appreciate the birds that much.”
While this spring has been quite the time for observing the eagles, last year was much different. Johnsons said the birds never returned to their nest and he wasn’t sure when they would come back until he finally saw them again.
“It’s kind of a long story but another eagle came in and a big fight broke out,” he said. “The male eagle took off and never came back. He left the female by herself and she had to endure frigid temperatures. She was sitting on eggs and she couldn’t feed herself. I was heartbroken.”
Now, as the summer heat quickly approaches, Johnson said the eagles will soon head north again.
In the meantime, those who are interested in seeing them have just a few more weeks.
“The newborns are getting their hunting skills down now,” Johnson said. “They’ve been going down to the river’s edge and scavenging for food.”
He’s learned a lot of interesting facts about the eagles since he found an interest in them. He said bald eagles don’t get their white heads until they’re 5 years old.
Through his years of observing the birds, he’s gotten to see quite the show as well.
“I love it when mom or dad comes in with a fish and the youngins are out on a branch somewhere,” Johnson said. “They come in like a missile trying to get their share. I could sit there all day long and watch them.”