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Bald Eagle Recovery Sweeps Across States

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By Brandon Butler

Browning Trail Cameras can be used to capture amazing images of all sorts of animals, even Bald Eagles.

Seeing a bald eagle soaring high above is a magical experience for most Americans. I never take seeing an eagle for granted because generations of Missourians who came before us rarely had a chance to see an eagle in the wild. As sightings of our nation’s symbol of freedom continue to increase, we cannot forget the dire straights these magnificent creatures once faced.

Bald eagles are a conservation success story. In 1963 there were only 417 known nesting pairs left. They were listed as an endangered species in 1973. Today, there are an estimated 9,789 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states. We are halfway back to the estimated 20,000 nesting pairs in 1782, when the bald eagle became our national symbol.

Missouri is a leading bald eagle state, with an estimated 2,000 eagles wintering around our lakes and rivers each winter. Our state has played a critical role in the bald eagle resurgence. The Missouri Department of Conservation released 74 young bald eagles in Missouri from 1981 to 1990. Eagles imprint to regions, and many of these released eagles returned to Missouri to breed as adults. Therefore, their young also continue to imprint to Missouri, so they too naturally return to their nesting range to breed.

Bald eagles are massive. In fact, they are one of the largest birds of prey in the world. Their wingspan is between six to eight feet and they stand about three feet tall. Bald eagles weigh between 8 to 15 pounds. They feed primarily on fish, which composes from 60 to 90 percent of their entire diet. They locate fish while soaring high above or watching from a perch. Once a prey is spotted, they dive at speeds of 100 miles per hour or more and grab the fish with their powerful, razor-sharp talons. Then they use their hooked beak for tearing flesh.

Bald eagles have a long life span. Some have lived up to 50 years in captivity. In the wild, bald eagles often live 15 to 25 years. A bald eagle sighting in Indiana caused excitement. C43 is a female bald eagle that was released at Lake Monroe near Bloomington on Sept. 6, 1988. She was 27 years old when recorded. Her documented travels took her to Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, but now she is back in Indiana and still producing chicks, as evidenced by a brood patch on her foot.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) delisted the bald eagle from the endangered species list in 2007, however, it is still a species of conservation concern. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act) remains as the primary law protecting eagles.

According to the USFWS, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits anyone, without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior, from "taking" bald eagles, including their parts, nests, or eggs. The Act provides criminal penalties for persons who take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle or any golden eagle, alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.

The collective efforts of federal and state wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, universities, corporations and dedicated individuals have returned bald eagles to much of their range in the lower 48. Today, we are fortunate to believe the future of the bald is secure.

See you down the trail…