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Bald Eagles Nest in Cook County

bald eagle in a nest at Tampier Slough
Photo by Jerry Goldner.

If you were a kid growing up in the Chicago area over the last several decades, chances are you can’t remember ever seeing a bald eagle. That’s because forty years ago, eagles were exceedingly rare in the Midwest, put on the ecological ropes by the pesticide DDT, habitat destruction, and poaching. But after the chemical’s ban in the 1970s, along with increased habitat protections, bald eagle populations began to increase. Over the last decade, eagle flyovers have become increasingly common. Kids today have the best chance in a generation to see our national symbol where we live—and it may be getting even more common in the years to come, thanks to recent developments.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County just revealed for the first time that a pair of American bald eagles are nesting on forest preserve property in Palos Township, in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. From a tall tree that juts above the woodland canopy with a commanding view of the slough below, the eagles hunt on surrounding waterways, carrying food back to the hatchlings.

While Forest Preserve District wildlife biologists haven’t yet verified the number of young in the nest, in early April the parents suddenly began to show intense interest in the nest contents, suggesting the presence of eggs or hatchlings. Last week, the fuzzy heads of hatchlings appeared to surface above the nest rim.

“The presence of the eagles is a testament to the success that the Forest Preserve District of Cook County has had in fulfilling its mission of protecting and preserving our county’s natural lands,” said district president Toni Preckwinkle. “The fact that these eagles have returned to the area to nest demonstrates a healthy, diverse ecosystem in this area, and will have a positive impact on all of our wildlife.”

If the nest is successful, the eagles will likely remain for the summer, migrating south in late autumn. Eagles generally return to the same nesting site year after year, making this especially auspicious for eagle prospects long-term.

These eagles aren’t the first modern pair to nest in Cook County. But this newest nest is the first that has been used for incubating eggs and is exceedingly rare in that the public can directly observe.

With scopes and binoculars, the public can view the birds and their nest from a safe distance (more than 500 yards) by looking north across Tampier Slough from 131st Street, between Wolf Road and Will-Cook Road. Please keep in mind that interfering with the nesting of bald eagles can carry a fine of $100,000, imprisonment for one year, or both—and that’s for a first offense. Penalties increase substantially for additional offenses, and a second violation of this Act is a felony. Forest Preserve District police will also be monitoring the site to ensure that all local, state and federal laws are followed.