Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bald Eagles spend winters in the Ozarks

By Jason Braunecker
Phelps County Conservation Agent

During winter months, the Missouri Ozarks provide an excellent opportunity to view our national symbol, the Bald Eagle.
Bald Eagles migrate south and winter in Missouri to find food in the normally unfrozen lakes and streams that are numerous here. These eagles usually arrive in December and return north to their breeding grounds in Canada and along the Great Lakes in late February.
Missouri is the leading state for wintering Bald Eagles with more than 2,200 bald eagles being reported. As a matter of fact, Missouri’s wintering Bald Eagle population is ten times larger than the summer nesting population of 200 Bald Eagles.
The wintering eagles are sociable, usually forming loose flocks. This gives many Missourians an opportunity to see multiple eagles in a small area.
This is definitely true for Missouri’s Trout Parks. Maramec Springs in Phelps County and Montauk in Dent County offer the public an opportunity to view these magnificent birds. The abundance of food at these trout parks will often attract as many as eight to ten eagles at a time.
If you plan to visit these parks with your family, warm clothes, binoculars, and patience are needed. If you are unable to travel to one of these trout parks, look in trees, particularly sycamores, and high in the sky for soaring eagles near a river or a lake
Bald eagles have a wing span ranging from 6 to 8 feet which is much larger than any other hawk or vulture you may commonly see. Look for both immature and adult Bald Eagles. Immature Bald Eagles do not have the distinct white head and tail feathers that the adult Bald Eagle displays. The immature has a darker head with some faint white stripes usually on the body and wings. It takes four to five years for an immature Bald Eagle to become an adult.
One important point to remember when trying to view the eagles is that they are wild and are state and federally protected. The Bald Eagle is listed as threatened in the United States and endangered in Missouri. The federal Eagle Protection Act gives additional protection to Bald Eagles as well. Give the Bald Eagles some space when you are trying to view them in their natural environment.
It is important to recognize the struggle the Bald Eagle endured in the past to truly appreciate the populations of wintering Bald Eagles we now have in the Ozarks. The pesticide DDT was heavily used in the mid 1900’s which led to a dramatic decrease in Bald Eagle populations. Bald Eagles ingested DDT through the fish and other animals that the Bald Eagles ate. The DDT thinned egg shells which led to failed nests. The banning of DDT use in the United States in 1972 has led to a healthy and growing Bald Eagle population throughout the United States and Canada.
Missouri took additional measures to increase Bald Eagle populations through a reintroduction program in the 1980’s. Current management efforts since the reintroductions include surveying and monitoring birds an nests, saving existing nest trees, leaving buffer zones around nest trees, and establishing trees along streams and reservoirs.
The Missouri Department of Conservation would like your help identifying new Bald Eagle nest sites. Active summer nests or any illegal activity involving Bald Eagles should be reported to the Missouri Department of Conservation by calling your local conservation agent or MDC Office.
For more information about Bald Eagles go to the Missouri Department of Conservation webpage at www.missouriconservation.org or call me at (573) 265-0052.

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