American Bald Eagles Make Shelby Township Their Home

A pair of young bald eagles are roosting in Holland Ponds.

On Saturday, April 8, naturalist Lizzy Schultz and wildlife photographer Joan Bonin will lead a free guided hike at Holland Ponds from 2-3 p.m. Hikers can look forward to catching a glimpse of the two American bald eagles that made the park their home at the beginning of March. 

The informational hike will follow the Overlook Trail, a rustic, wetlands trail, for about a quarter of a mile before stopping at a viewing point that is about 750-800 feet from the eagles’ nest. 

Photo credit: Shelby Township Parks and Recreation Department

“There’s something about people needing to see something to really, truly understand it and love it,” says Schultz. “The wildlife in our backyards need help. I feel that if we can bring out an animal for people to meet or do a guided hike so that people can actually see what’s in their backyard, that’s when it truly connects for them.”

The American bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782, but it hasn’t always been smooth flying for this majestic creature. From the 1900s all the way until 2007, the bald eagle was a federally protected endangered species. At their lowest count, there were only 417 breeding pairs of bald eagles in 1963. As of 2020, there were 316,700 bald eagles

Like American bald eagles, Holland Ponds has fought its own conservation battle. Once deemed a toxic superfund site by the United States Environmental Protection Agency due to a nearby contaminated waste landfill, the park has made a comeback through conservation and habitat restoration efforts. 

Photo credit: Dennis LaVergne

Now, the once-endangered birds of prey have made their home at Holland Ponds — a feat that wouldn’t have been possible just 30 years ago.

“I love this story so much because it’s inspirational. All the news about the environment is kind of doom and gloom. But really, when we work together, we can truly make these great things happen for our environment and for wildlife,” says Schultz. “That’s why I’m just so excited to see the bald eagles here, in addition to the fact that they’re just a wonderful, amazing species.” 

Bald eagles don’t get their signature white head and tail feathers until they’re about 5 years old, which is also the time they begin to mate and have families. The male eagle at Holland Ponds still has some brown feathers in his head and tail, which is a sign to Schultz he may be preparing to raise his first family. While even binoculars and cameras can’t see into the birds’ nest, Schultz believes there are eggs. 

“They’re nest guarding. One of them is always on the nest, and they’re sitting very low, so it’s most likely that they’re incubating eggs,” Schultz says. “It shouldn’t be too much longer until we see little heads popping up if they’re successful.”

Photo credit: Bob Bonin

If the eagles successfully hatch chicks, they will continue to return to Holland Ponds for the rest of their mating lives and Schultz is hopeful that many generations of bald eagles will emerge from this nesting site. 

If your family is interested in participating in the guided hike, meet at Holland Ponds Park at 50385 Ryan Road, Shelby Township at 2 p.m. Be sure to wear weather-proof shoes and bring binoculars, if you have them. A high-powered spotting scope will be available to get the best view of the nest site. 

To protect the eagles, groups will be limited to 20-25 people, so expect long wait times. Bring a chair while you wait, and prepare to learn about bald eagles and their history from the nature center educators. 

If you’d prefer to skip the crowds and long lines, you can take a guided hike to see the bald eagles on May 6 at Great Blue Heron Fest, an annual event where nature enthusiasts can see heron rookery — the herons that return to Holland Park to mate happen to have their nest in the  same tree the eagles are nesting in!

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