This year, the famous eagles’ nest east of Llano has lost one of its adult eagles. However, since there were three adults tending the nest for the past several years, life goes on for the others. A male and female adult pair already have laid eggs in the nest, which sits in a large native pecan tree right on the banks of the Llano River.
In fact, one of the eggs probably already has hatched, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist said, and the eagles are on their way to another successful nesting season. “The way the adults have been acting, with lots of activity and looking down into the nest, I think one of them has been hatched,” said TPWD wildlife biologist Dale Schmidt of Llano.
“I drive by there every day and there’s been a big difference in the activity in the nest.”
A Saturday trip to the nest, which is in its fifth year in the single location that hangs right out over the riverbed, found two eagles in the pecan tree. One sat inside the nest, head just barely showing most of the time, and the second adult kept watch a few yards away in the top of a second tree.
“The third adult didn’t show up this year,” Schmidt said. “We don’t know what happened, but that’s one of the things that happens to them. They’re out there hunting and flying and then they just don’t make it back.”
Three adults had been seen on the nest since it was built in the pecan tree in 2004.
“That’s been a real successful nest,” Schmidt said. “In that nest, they’ve fledged six eaglets since 2004.”
There were two young eagles that left the nest in 2004 and again in 2005, then a single successful chick each of the last two years. The youngsters leave the nest in late spring and move back northward in search of food. They follow the same migration routes as their adult parents and generally migrate southward to about the same area where they were hatched.
They will migrate back to Texas in the fall, and usually begin looking for mating partners when they reach sexual maturity at four to five years of age. By then, they’ve begun developing that distinctive white head and neck from which they derive their name.
Eagles spend a lot of time fishing, and the birds in Llano catch fish from the Llano River. They love softshell turtles, which make up a fair amount of the food they catch for themselves and the growing chicks. But the menu also can include squirrels and rabbits, rats, waterfowl and other birds.
The Llano River nest continues to grow, and the immense size is easily visible right now because there are no leaves growing on the pecan tree in which it sits. Unless they blow down or the tree dies and falls, the nests will be used year after year by the same pair of eagles.
They can live up to 30 years, so some of the nests reach tremendous sizes and weights. The current pair nesting along the Llano were in the area before they built this nest, but their old nest was blown down and they moved nearby to set up the current site little more than 100 yards off Texas 29.
Schmidt said he knows that eagles have been nesting nearby since 1989, though he doesn’t know if it’s the same pair.
“That’s a good nesting area,” he said, “but the (eagle) population around Llano has really been growing. It’s continued to grow all across Texas and the United States, which is why eagles were de-listed.”
Unchecked use of insecticides, as well as ignorant persecution, brought eagles within reach of extinction earlier in the 20th century. However, conservation and education efforts have restored the population to the point that the birds don’t have to be considered endangered. They remain protected, however.
In addition to the loss of one adult bird, the Llano nest has undergone another change in the last year, Schmidt said.
“This was the farthest western nest in Texas,” he said, “but it’s not anymore. Now we have one in the Panhandle that is active.”
There is parking on both sides of Texas 29 close to the nest, but visitors are encouraged to exercise caution leaving and entering the highway. Also, biologists urge eagles watchers never to cross the fence onto private property or to approach the nest, which could disturb the eagles.