While the groundhog has proclaimed spring is on its way it still feels like the woods are in a deep slumber. Despite the quiet there is something exciting happening right now high up in the trees. Indiana Bald Eagles are mating and laying their eggs. I believe it is the greatest conservation success story of our time, and you can watch it from your sofa.
In 1897, the last wild eagle hatched in Indiana. Initially deforestation, over hunting and later the use of pesticides led to the elimination of this majestic bird from our state and near extinction in the lower 48 states. In the mid 1980’s the DNR brought 73 young eaglets from Wisconsin and Alaska to be reintroduced at Lake Monroe in Southern Indiana .
It takes 5 years for an eagle to reach maturity to breed. At about the same time they get their white head and tail feathers. The first nesting pair of Bald Eagles in Indiana was spotted in 1991, now there are over 250 eagles in Indiana. Bald Eagles were removed from the US Endangered Species list in 2007 and the Indiana list in 2008. Once a vary rare sight, they can now be seen in every state but Hawaii.
Eagles mate for life and hold the record for the largest bird nest. They return to the same nest year after year adding sticks and grasses. Nests can eventually get as big as 6 x10 feet. Very large trees like cottonwoods, oaks, and sycamores, are needed near a water source. Bald Eagles are about 3 feet tall with a wingspan of over 6-7 feet. Their young fledglings will reach 95% of their full adult size before they leave the nest. You can see why they feel the need to make their nest bigger each year!
In Indiana, eagles mate and start laying their eggs in February. Both the male and female share duties sitting on the nest. By 12 weeks the fledglings will start to fly out of the nest, staying within a half-mile area while the parents help them learn to feed. Over the next 4 years they will venture further away until they are ready to start breeding. While only 50-70% of eaglets survive the first year, they can live to be 20-30 years old in the wild. Last summer one of the original eagles was spotted at Lake Monroe, she is now 27 years old.
Locally eagles have been seen nesting along the White River near Prairie Creek Reservoir and the Mississinewa River near Albany. The return of eagles locally is a tribute to our efforts to protect wooded areas along rivers, restore wetlands, and maintain good water quality. They can be seen soaring high above the water looking for fish. When fish or waterfowl aren’t available they will eat snakes, rabbits or scavenge on dead animals.
A symbol of strength, courage and freedom, it is an extraordinary sight to spot an eagle. You can get a close up view of eagles on their nests via one of these on-line nest cameras. February 13 and 14 is the DNR Eagle Watch at the Salamonie Interpretive Center. Call (260)468-2127 to register for this free event and watch the eagles along the Wabash River.