An Anchorage biologist this month discovered a small black bear curled up in a bald eagle nest during a survey at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“At first, my mind was trying to make it into a baby eagle ... perhaps with its wings spread or something. Then I realized it was a small bear sleeping there,” wildlife biologist Steve Lewis said by email Thursday.
Lewis was in a helicopter conducting an eagle nest productivity survey for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on July 17 when he spotted the bear in a nest that measured about 6 feet wide.
There were no bald eagles — just the napping bear.
Lewis said there are many reasons the bear could’ve ended up in the nest.
It could have been attracted to a “smelly” nest, he said. Bald eagles bring eaglets food including salmon and other fish.
As the eaglets get older, the parents will leave the food in the nest for them, Lewis said.
“Often that food isn’t entirely consumed and ends up getting stomped into the nest or lying on the side and rotting,” he said.
However, Lewis said he suspects the nest failed in the spring.
A bald eagle was seen incubating an egg in the spring. But when they surveyed the nest a week later, the egg was left alone and both the male and female eagles were nearby.
“Usually when she takes a break, the male will incubate (especially in a relatively cool place like AK). So I suspected it had failed in the spring,” he wrote.
If it wasn’t attracted to the smells, the bear also could have made a bed high in the tree to stay safe from other animals, like bigger brown bears known to be nearby, Lewis said.
It’s also not uncommon for black bears to climb to the tops of cottonwood trees during the spring, where they snack on the “sticky and sweet buds,” he said.
“This leads me to think that these bears are used to being up in the trees at other times,” Lewis said.
In the past, bears have caused eagle nests to fail in the area, Lewis said, but it’s not clear how often it happens.