Baby eagles hatch in nest at Hanford

Two bald eagles have hatched in a nest on the Hanford nuclear reservation, for possibly the first time in more than 50 years.

Hanford officials are not aware of bald eagles producing eggs on the site since it was established during World War II, according to Department of Energy spokesman Cameron Salony. It's the first known bald eagle nesting attempt at Hanford in three years.

The young birds are estimated to be about 10 weeks old and already stand about 31 inches tall.

In February, Mission Support Alliance officials surveyed for bald eagles on the site and spotted 13 adults and three juveniles. Bald eagles are considered juveniles until they are about five years old, when their mottled brown-and-white plumage turns to dark brown and they develop the distinctive white head and tail of an adult.

The 13 adults spotted in February included the breeding pair that produced the two chicks.

Pictures taken by Mission Support Alliance employees show them in a nest built of sticks high in a group of trees.

Although DOE is not disclosing the location to protect the birds, bald eagles typically nest near water, such as the Columbia River, where there is a supply of fish. They also may eat waterfowl, small mammals and carrion, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hanford officials put up signs to restrict worker access in a buffer zone around the nest until the birds are fledged.

Bald eagles disturbed by people may abandon their nests as they are being built or when eggs are being laid, according to Fish and Wildlife. Adults are less likely to abandon their nest near and after hatching, but disturbance by people may cause eggs or young to be left unattended, leaving them vulnerable to the elements.

Bald eagles were listed as an endangered species in 1967, but have since been removed from the list as their population has recovered. They still are covered by the Eagle Protection Act, and disturbing them can be considered a violation of the act.

The two young eagles at Hanford almost are ready to fly. Fish and Wildlife says eaglets make their first unsteady flights about 10 to 12 weeks after hatching and leave the nest within a few days after that first flight.

However, they'll likely remain in the vicinity of the nest for several weeks after fledging. They are almost completely dependent on their parents for food until they leave the nesting territory about six weeks later, according to Fish and Wildlife.

w Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews