Nation’s symbol graces Hoosier skies
By: John Martino
“Man I never get tired of seeing them,” said my friend Byron Padgett. While embarking on a morning scouting trip looking for Canada geese he had the opportunity to watch several bald eagles perched in a tree just a short distance from his truck. “I don’t care how many you’ve seen they are just awesome to watch,” he added.
I agree. Watching a group of bluebirds is nice. Seeing orioles is great. But bald eagles are the epitome of cool.
The graceful birds have garnered our attention for centuries. On June 20, 1782 the bald eagle was selected as the national emblem for the United States. They were chosen because of their beauty, long life, great strength and majestic looks.
But there was a time it wasn’t like that and their presence in Indiana is one of our state’s greatest wildlife success stories.
Bald eagles nested in the Hoosier state until the 1890’s. That was until habitat destruction, illegal shooting and the contamination of their food source, through the use the pesticide DDT, decimated their numbers. For roughly the next century few eagles were seen in Indiana.
Then, in 1985, thanks to forward thinking conservationist groups, reintroduction efforts were put in place. That’s when 73 eaglets were obtained from Wisconsin and Alaska. They were placed in secluded nest boxes on Lake Monroe in Martin and Brown Counties. From that day forward history would repeat itself and the majestic birds of prey began taking a foothold in Indiana.
The first successful nesting attempt was noted in 1989 and by 1991 DNR biologists began documenting a few active nesting sites. Their nests are easy to recognize because of the huge size, usually ranging five to six feet wide and up to three feet deep. It has been estimated that some large nests can weigh in at 2,000 pounds. Most will be found close to significant waterways. Although they are opportunistic feeders, sometimes seen eating carrion or other types of roadkill, their primary diet consists of fish.
Since their original reintroduction their numbers have grown with each passing year. To date nest sites have been documented in 85 of Indiana’s 92 counties.
These large raptors have a significant lifespan when compared to other birds, living up to 30 years in the wild and even longer in captivity. They are easy to spot when gracefully soaring on seven foot wingspans and can attain altitudes of nearly 10,000 feet.
Although easy to distinguish with their bright white heads and tails, they do not acquire their colors until five years in age. Until that they are primarily brown or sporting “mottling” as their familiar white coloring begins to develop.
There are few wildlife species that are more suited for our nation’s easily recognizable symbol. For most these beautiful birds symbolize freedom, strength and wisdom. But they should also represent survival.
Few experiences compare to spotting a bald eagle in flight. Thanks to Indiana’s reintroduction efforts there are lots of places to see these majestic birds of prey, including Howard and neighboring counties. But Lake Monroe near Bloomington is one of the top locations. Closer to home is Mississinewa and Salamonie Reservoirs. It is common to follow the Mississinewa or Wabash Rivers where sometimes it is easy to spots dozens of the graceful birds.
As bald eagles continue to thrive in Indiana their grace and beauty will continue to captivate most who see them, whether perched in a tree or soaring overhead. As their numbers continue to increase always respect the birds by staying at least 100 yards from active nests and always be cognizant of the rights of private landowners where nests may be located.
Once rarely seen, bald eagles are now a common site soaring central Indiana skies."