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The bald is back.

ADMIRERS OF THE LONG-endangered bald eagle should be flying high right now. Not only is it prime eagle-watching season, but there are more eagles to watch.

Thanks to habitat protection and a ban on the eagle-killing pesticide DDT, some 3,000 pairs now nest in the Lower 48, compared with an estimated 417 in 1963, the nadir. The bird's comeback has the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considering upgrading the eagle to the less serious "threatened" category--a success shared by only 18 of America's 482 endangered wildlife and plant species.

Arguably the most regal bird, the adult bald eagle bears a trademark white head and tail; big, dark body (weighing as much as 16 pounds); and wingspan up to 8 feet. It can spot a fish or waterfowl from a mile away and plunge steeply to pluck it from the water with a stab of its talons.

The eagle is not above piracy, often fighting over prey. But its aerial courtship shows a more graceful side--while aloft, male and female lock talons and descend in a series of somersaults, breaking apart only to avoid smashing into the ground.

Eaglets form strong attachments to their fledging region, a trait wildlife officials have used to increase eagle numbers in the West. In one project, captive-bred eaglets are transplanted to artificial nests known as "hack" boxes at Big Sur and Catalina Island. After the birds eventually fledge, they return whenever the nesting urge strikes.

SEEING THE MOST EAGLES

While you can see eagles from November into March, numbers peak in February. Three California lakes are among the best spots to view them.

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. In winter, the Klamath Basin near the Oregon border hosts the densest concentration of bald eagles in the Lower 48: nearly a thousand eagles, migrants from the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. At Tule Lake, treeless shores offer unobstructed sights of eagles on the ice near packs of waterfowl. Stop in at headquarters for maps and sighting details, then take the self-guided auto tour. From Interstate 5, take U.S. 97 east 55 miles, then take State 161 (State Line Highway) east 18 miles to Hill Road. Turn south and go 4 miles to the headquarters. Hours are 8 to 4:30 weekdays, 8 to 4 weekends; call (916) 667-2231.

Lake San Antonio, Lake Cachuma. At Lake San Antonio, in Monterey County, guided 2-hour viewing tours by boat run Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from December 14 through March 8. Children under age 7 are not allowed. Tours cost $8, $17 with Sunday brunch; call (408) 755-4899. At Lake Cachuma, east of Solvang, 2-hour boat tours are given Wednesdays through Sundays (times vary) from November through the first weekends in March. Cost is $8, $5 under age 12; call (805) 568-2460.
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Title Annotation:bald eagle
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:465
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