Bald Eagle Nesting in Saguaro Cactus Documented for the First Time in Arizona

Long assumed but never proven, an eagle nest in a saguaro cactus has finally been found.

Wildlife biologists with the Arizona Game and Fish Department have documented photographic proof of a bald eagle nesting in a saguaro cactus for the first time ever.

The agency conducted a recent eagle survey flight, which revealed "a pair of bald eagles with eaglets nesting in the arms of a large saguaro near a central Arizona reservoir."

Kenneth "Tuk" Jacobson, the state agency's coordinator for raptor management, said that there was only one past acknowledgement of bald eagles nesting in the Southwest desert's iconic saguaros that the Game and Fish Department was aware of. That instance was a "1937 record from Kermit Lee of Lee's Trading Post where there is mention of large nests in saguaros along the lower Verde River that were believed to be occupied by bald eagles."

That was the last known mention. As it stood, there was no documentation or photos to support those sightings, so it was always speculative.

Nonetheless, Jacobson and his AZGFD raptor management team had been on the lookout, hoping to catch a glimpse or find some proof that a pair of eagles had nested in the Arizona saguaro cactus, which is found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert.

As the AZGFD's raptor management coordinator, Jacobson had always wanted to spot an eagle nest in the arms of a saguaro, but until now had come up short.

"It's been an 18-year trek for me, keeping my eye out for a bald eagle nest in a saguaro, so finally finding one is amazing," Jacobson said of the rare sight.

Nesting in the Arms of Arizona Cactus

The unmistakable bald eagle, the national bird of the United States, has a range that covers nearly all of North America. From the Alaskan shoreline to the Florida panhandle, they're the only sea eagle endemic to the continent.

They're known for making gigantic nests, especially compared to the typical bird's nest you'll find in your backyard. In fact, the bald eagle is known to create the largest nest of any bird in North America, not to mention the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species. Their entirely self-built abodes can reach up to 13 feet deep, more than 8 feet wide, and weigh up to 1 metric ton.

The rare sighting of bald eagles nesting in Arizona saguaro cacti is indeed a special discovery, and just goes to show there are still important things to document in the wide world of North American wildlife.