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A bald eagle returns to its nest in Town Creek just off State Road 184 in March.
Courtesy photo by George Ponder
A bald eagle returns to its nest in Town Creek just off State Road 184 in March.

A soaring population
Making a home
in Alabama

Once endangered, bald eagles
thrive in Tennessee Valley

By Nancy Glasscock
nglasscock@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

Local wildlife officials say bald eagles once protected by the federal government as an endangered species have flourished, and they have spotted five nests this year.

Bald eagles nested at sites across Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties, according to Keith Hudson, wildlife biologist with the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

He said people saw the nests at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, near Cotaco Creek just outside the refuge, near Swan Creek in Limestone County, in Town Creek in Lawrence County and possibly at Red Bank in Lawrence County.

More nests may exist

But since the Interior Department removed bald eagles from the endangered species list June 28, he said, the nests aren't monitored as closely, and more nests could exist.

"This year was generally a good year ... They've reached the point now where we feel like we don't have to monitor them like we used to, so we're very pleased," Hudson said.

The Nongame Wildlife Program started the Bald Eagle Restoration Project in 1985, and wildlife officials used eggs from Florida because no eggs were found in Alabama. Officials sent the eggs to Sutton Avian Center in Oklahoma, where employees incubated them.

The juvenile eagles were raised until they were old enough to be released into the wild.

Ninety-two juvenile eagles were hacked, or forced to take their first flight, from towers across Alabama during a six-year period, Hudson said.

Last year, an eagle couple in Lawrence County had an eagle fledge, or leave the nest, after trying to have offspring for three years. They built in dead trees in the same location, and wind repeatedly destroyed their nests.

Rare Morgan sighting

It had been almost 60 years since a bald eagle nested in Morgan County until a nest was spotted at Wheeler refuge last year, said Dwight Cooley, manager.

After fledging, eagles remain in contact with their parents because they hunt in the same area.

A juvenile eagle will have matured in four or five years, and will probably return to the area where it was fledged to breed and make its nest, Hudson said.

George Ponder, a Cullman resident who photographs bald eagles and other wildlife, said he saw a bald eagle at Smith Lake recently. Bald eagles are in Guntersville and in Winston County, he said.

Now, the eagles are beginning to prepare nests, Ponder said.

"They start coming in now, and start refurbishing the nest, and probably start sitting some time in November or December," Ponder said.

Seeing an eagle sitting in a nest doesn't necessarily mean it has eggs, he said. After eagles lay eggs, the parents closely guard their young until they're old enough to leave the nest. The eggs hatch any time from January to March, Ponder said.

"Once the female lays the eggs, then they'll take turns sitting on them," Ponder said. And it'll be almost a 24-hour vigil and at times the male will bring food to the female."

Though the bald eagle has been removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, the eagle remains protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

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