Not long ago, catching a glimpse of a bald eagle riding the wind in North Texas would have been about as rare as sighting a Sasquatch along the Dallas North Tollway. But today, if someone claims to have ogled one of the majestic creatures gliding past with a snake dangling from its beak, it may not be because of the home brew — this time.
“I wouldn’t say they are a common sight, by any means,” said Tania Homayoun, a senior conservation biologist at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center in Cedar Hill. “But you shouldn’t be surprised if you see them around our major lakes and waterways. In general, watching the areas around the Trinity River and major lakes in the area will be the best bet for sightings.”
The bald eagle population plummeted during the 1950s and '60s after the effects of pesticides, namely DDT, caused the shells of would-be eaglets to thin out to the point that they were unsuitable for hatching, Homayoun said. Known scientifically as haliaeetus leucocephalus, the species landed on the endangered list in 1978. However, by 1995, the number of bald eagles in America had bounced back enough that their status had been upgraded to threatened, and they were officially delisted in 2007 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“[Bald eagles] are generally considered to be more of a winter resident in Texas as birds from further north move down into the Southern states," Homayoun said. “But in the metroplex, sightings are reported year-round.”
With the number of bald eagles on the rise, the birds of prey have moved into appropriate habitats, Homayoun said. And thanks to conservation efforts, several habitats within the Dallas area provide havens for bald eagles as well as other urban wildlife.
Pair that with the fact that North Texas is part of the Central Flyway, and the chances of spotting a bald eagle, or two, around Dallas get even better. With the help of ebird.org, a website that collects data and maps out citizen-reported bird sightings, we’ve pinpointed some hot hangouts for bald eagles and bird lovers around the Big D.
John Bunker Sands Wetland Center — Seagoville
In terms of publicly accessible locations, John Bunker Sands Wetland Center is the prime place to see a nesting pair of bald eagles, Homayoun said. It also provides “a great example of working to accommodate and protect the birds once they’ve moved in.”
Bald eagles are known to stay with their mates until death and return to their massive nests annually. According to the center’s website, a pair of bald eagles have nested there since 2011. Located about 25 miles from downtown Dallas, the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center is situated among more than 3,000 acres of man-made wetlands on the Rosewood Seagoville Ranch and is open the first and third Saturdays of the month.
Trinity River Audubon Center
About 10 minutes from downtown Dallas, the Trinity River Audubon Center is located on 120 acres. A former illegal dump site, the reclaimed land that borders the Great Trinity Forest is frequented by a variety of species including bald eagles.
“We will sometimes see both adult and juvenile bald eagles at the Trinity River Audubon Center, Homayoun said. “So we always encourage visitors to take an extra look at any of the birds they see soaring overhead.”
The facility, which also hosts various events such as owl prowls and birding basics, is open daily except for Mondays.
White Rock Lake
An urban oasis visited by more than 1 million people annually, White Rock Lake consists of more than 1,000 acres and nine miles of trails offering ample views of the Dallas skyline.
And according to DFW Urban Wildlife, “bald eagles at White Rock Lake are not altogether an unusual occurrence.”
Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area
Because bald eagles prefer to dine on fish, they are often spotted around lakes. The Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area is open seven days a week with upcoming bird walks scheduled for select days in September and October.
L.B. Houston Trails
Located in Northwest Dallas near the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, the L.B. Houston bike trails provide 10 miles of trails near the Trinity, making it another bird scouting mecca.
Bald eagles have also been seen recently in other areas including the Southside Water Treatment Plant, Loop 12 Boat Launch and Folsom Fitness Track, according to eBird. Those wanting to venture a bit further away from the Dallas skyline might also want to gawk around Joe Pool Lake, Cedar Hill State Park or River Legacy Trails in Arlington.
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While watching a bald eagle in mid-flight can clearly be awe-inspiring, for Steve Cardwell, a Dallas businessman and Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal member, bald eagles are more than special. They are sacred.
“The feathers and the talons, we believe, are strong medicine and give us power,” he said.
The birds are highly revered because of their vision and their ability to fly in the heavens, and their feathers are used in Native American regalia and ceremonies, Cardwell said. If he finds even a dead bald eagle today, he will collect the bird and deliver it to the game warden so that its feathers can be given to a Native American somewhere on a waiting list. Possession of eagle feathers is generally illegal except for use by Native Americans.
“There is a process to dole out the feathers,” he said. “They are in great demand for Native Americans, [but] you have to have some ownership papers.”