A black bear was recently discovered indulging in an unexpected midday nap – not in the cozy nook of a forest den of course, but in the lofty nest of a bald eagle’s home.
The intriguing scene unfolded on a military base in Alaska when researchers stumbled upon this sighting during their routine survey of eagle nests.
Black bears climbing all the way up into an eagle’s nest is an extremely rare behavior. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) sounded the alarm, calling out the concern that black bears are causing recently on America’s most majestic birds and their vulnerable offspring.
“In the past, a few eagle nests have been raided by black bears with predictably bad results for the nesting eagles,” FWS officials said in a Facebook post.
They further explained that these raids often lead to the deaths of young eagles, as bears occasionally help themselves to the nestlings and eggs.
Why Do Bears Raid Eagles Nests?
Stephen B. Lewis, a wildlife biologist at FWS who spearheaded the nest surveys on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), shared insights into this unusual occurrence.
“It’s hard to say how much bears invade eagle nests because we don’t (can’t) spend that much time monitoring to see it happen or have cameras to witness it,” Lewis conveyed via email to Live Science.
During a May helicopter survey, researchers spotted a female bald eagle sitting on an egg within the nest that would later become the sleeping spot for the snoozing bear spotted by officials.
A week after the helicopter survey in May, both the female and her partner were absent, leaving the egg to fend for itself in the chilly Alaskan air.
Lewis had reason to believe the nesting attempt might have not worked, leading to the eventual bear taking over the nest. He explained that, typically, male eagles assume the incubation duties to maintain the egg’s warmth, especially in the frigid northern climate. The unattended egg, therefore, hinted at a nesting failure.
The colossal nests of bald eagles – boasting dimensions up to 8 feet across and exceeding two tons in weight – serve as cozy spots where black bears seeking refuge won’t likely be disturbed.
Lewis said, “This nest isn’t that far off from such a bear bed. It could have just happened to climb the tree and decided to take a nap.”
He suggested that the bear’s reason for climbing into the nest might have been fueled by the lingering scent of dead fish. It turns out eagle’s nests can emit a relatively strong fishy odor, due to partially consumed meals being left behind by the eagles.
“Bears have incredible senses of smell so perhaps a bear is attracted to the smelly nest,” Lewis said.
As for what they’re going to do about the bear sleeping in the eagle’s nest? — Nothing. Let nature take its course and the bear will probably climb down on its own. We can imagine though, it must have been a high climb to be an eagle’s nest.