Bald eagles not just winter visitors

The photographer caught this adult bald eagle just as it landed on its cliff top nest. For the most part, the 125 nesting bald eagle pairs that nest in Missouri live in sycamore, cottonwood or cypress trees. A number of eagles nest can be found in the Lake Area including one that had to be moved to make way for the Highway 54 Expressway through Osage Beach.

The photographer caught this adult bald eagle just as it landed on its cliff top nest. For the most part, the 125 nesting bald eagle pairs that nest in Missouri live in sycamore, cottonwood or cypress trees. A number of eagles nest can be found in the Lake Area including one that had to be moved to make way for the Highway 54 Expressway through Osage Beach.

We all know that America’s symbol, the bald eagle, are plentiful in Missouri, but some of us may not be aware that in addition to the two or three thousand that spend the winter here another 600 to a 1,000 live here permanently.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) in 2006 there was more than 125 pairs of nesting bald eagles that lived in the state. And, surprisingly, the counties in and around Lake of the Ozarks each have several pair that nest and raise their young here.

According to the MDC, as of 2006, the counties that had more than nine pair of eagles nesting inside their boundaries were all in mid-Missouri and most of those counties were near Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake and the Osage River.

According to a map posted on the MDC website, the county with the largest number of documented active bald eagle nests is St Clair with 15. Benton is second with 13, while Henry has 11 and Camden and Osage each have 10 documented nest sites. Benton County has nine nests, Miller each has six to eight nests and Morgan has three to five.

While 10 counties that border the Mississippi River all have eagle nests, only Pemiscot in the Bootheel region and Lincoln and Pike, north of St. Louis, have six to eight nests. The only other county with a large concentration of active bald eagle nests is Atchison, with six to eight, in the far northwest corner of the state. The remainder counties, 76 in all, have anywhere from one to five nests. Which you think about it is quite remarkable. Of Missouri’s 114 counties only 23 do not have a documented bald eagle nesting site.

In addition to the nesting eagle pairs, there are a number of “single” birds that live here year round. In fact, the MDC estimates that more than 600 American bald eagles live inside the state boundaries.

Each winter the MDC undertakes to hold an “eagle count” to get a clear picture of the number of migrating bald eagles that winter in the state. During the early months of 2012, the MDC documented 2,661 eagles in the state – five of those were, in fact, golden eagles. Most of the eagles that were counted lived along the Mississippi and Osage Rivers and around Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake and Lake of the Ozarks. In 2008, nearly 400 eagles were counted in Squaw Creek National Wildlife Preserve, on the Missouri River in the northwest corner of the state. The MDC estimates that as many as 100 migrating bald eagles spend the winter around Bagnell Dam in Lake Ozark.

Nesting eagles were common in Missouri in the early 1800s, however by 1890 the nesters were nearly eliminated from the state. The deforestation of the cypress swamps in the Bootheel region along with the use of DDT pesticide in the early 1900s nearly destroyed Missouri’s eagle population and wreaked havoc on the entire population in the lower 48 states.

Scientist estimate that when this county was first settled there were as many as 20,000 nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states, however by the mid 20th century that number had been reduced to near extinction. However, since the pesticide was banned in the 1950s, and the federal government made it illegal to kill or harm a bald eagle or damage its nest the numbers have rebounded. Today, it is estimated that there are more than 10,000 nesting bald eagles in the contiguous 48 states.

The bald eagle restoration program in Missouri began in 1981, when the MDC began working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield to restore nesting bald eagle pairs to the state. During the early years of the program some 74 young eagles were released in Missouri. The young eagles imprinted on the areas where they were released and eventually returned to those areas to nests and raise their young.

Sycamore trees are the most common bald eagle nest site in Missouri followed by cottonwoods and cypress. The construction of the large reservoirs, such as Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake, have also helped restore the bald eagle population by creating habitat and providing abundant supplies of the bird’s favorite food - fish.

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