Bald eagle numbers continue to soar

Herald News Intern

With a growing population throughout Indiana, bald eagles are likely to be seen around the county.

Patoka Lake Interpretive Naturalist Dana Reckelhoff reported 12 active nests at Patoka. Allisyn Gillet, a nongame bird biologist for the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, said there is also a nest at Huntingburg Lake, which has been reported as active with an adult sitting on the nest. A nest with eaglets was also reported on the Patoka River near Jasper. The Ferdinand State Forest is also home to a bald eagle’s nest.

The only eagle unique to North America, these birds were once abundant throughout the country. According to The American Eagle Foundation, when the bald eagle was adopted as the national symbol in 1782, as many as 100,000 of the nesting birds were living in the U.S. However, the national bird was once endangered, even close to extinction. At the lowest recorded point in 1963, there were only 417 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states. This was due to several causes, including the destruction of habitats and illegal shooting.

The main reason for the population decrease was the contamination of the bird’s food source. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, is a pesticide that was commonly sprayed on plants, which in turn were eaten by eagles. With DDT now banned, the protection of habitats by the Endangered Species Act and reintroduction programs, the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007. According to the Defenders of Wildlife, there are a total of about 70,000 bald eagles currently living in North America.

Reckelhoff said more eagles appear around the state each year, and the population is doing well.

“As of 2010, the status was about 150 active nests and now we are close to 300 active nests in the state,” she said.

A reintroduction program the Indiana Department of Natural Resources began in the 1980s has helped the population thrive and continues to do so. When the program began, Monroe Lake was chosen as the location to raise the eagles. According to Reckelhoff, eagles come back within 50 to 100 miles of where they were raised to raise their own young. Though the eaglets raised in Indiana came from Alaska and other states, they return to Indiana because it is where they were raised and where they call home.

Since the birds return near their homes, their nests often remain in the same area. The eagles often even reuse the same nest year after year, so if you are lucky enough to see them nesting in an area, you are likely to see them again.

“Some nests have collapsed or been damaged or they abandon the nests and rebuild a new one, the number just continues to grow,” Reckelhoff said.

The nests typically start off 5 feet across and 5 feet deep, and continue to grow in size.

“This time of year it is critical that we don’t go anywhere near their nests, from the time that those eggs are hatching in the very early spring to the time they are raising their young,” Reckelhoff said.

However, as it gets later in the summer it is not as critical because the young have had an opportunity to grow and are much bigger.

The federal limit for the distance from an eagle’s nest is 330 feet, Reckelhoff added.

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