On Eagles’ Wings

A puffy grey fledgling balanced on the side of a giant tower, focusing its already keen eyes on a new environment. Hatched in Alaska, it had been brought to Monroe Lake near the IU Bloomington campus in Indiana. The year was 1985.

Eagles had been disappearing from the state for one hundred years. In the new century, their habitats were destroyed and new pesticides, particularly DDT, poisoned their food so that shells of their eggs were too thin to let the babies grow. In 1973, the year the Endangered Species Act was passed, there were only three eagle sightings recorded in Indiana.

But then – in 1983, a thorough proposal was made, the Indiana Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program (you can see it online) to re-establish the eagle population. Two years later, 73 eaglets were brought from Alaska and Wisconsin, placed in a 25 ft. nest tower at Monroe Lake, and fed until they were 12 weeks old when they could fly.

In 1991 there were successful eagle nests at Monroe Lake and Cagles Mill Lake – the raptors don’t lay eggs until they are four years old – and by 1998 there were new nests in nearby counties of Tippecanoe, Posey and Brown.

Fast forward to 2021. Eagles are now off the Endangered List in Indiana, although they are still protected by state and federal laws. Last year there were 350 nest territories within our borders.

I’d heard people talk about spotting them, but l don’t know, maybe I was waiting for a time when one just happened by. The thing is, they need a river for their mostly-fish diet and we don’t have one in our back yard.

Last week a friend posted on Facebook about eagles she and her husband saw on Salamonie Lake, about an hour’s drive away. We also discovered that near the small town of Andrews there were some by the Little Wabash River. My husband and I needed to get out of the house, so we took a drive. Poking along a dirt road, I spotted what looked like a whirligig high on a branch. We backed up. There it was, the first eagle we had ever seen in Indiana.

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor, nature and water
My first Indiana eagle.

We watched it from the recommended football field distance (and it was probably watching us) until it flew away. Its wingspan was five or six feet. Then we moved down the road aways and saw two others resting on a small sandbar in the water, presumably waiting for a cold fish dinner.

The record for a Haliaeetus leucocephalus or bald eagle life length is 38 years; Eagle #C43 was spotted in 2018 in Monroe County at 30 years old. She was one of the eaglets from Whitestone Harbor, Alaska released in 1988.

The proposal which resulted in the re-introduction success cited a lot of education: posters, tours, AV programs in schools, press kits, displays at public boat launching sites, seminars, and films. I hope its writers and researchers have received due honors for bringing the national bird back to Indiana. It was well worth the effort.

Information from: my-indiana-home.com, fws.gov/midwest/eagle/recovery, in.gov/dnr

Backyard Biology

Great Kiskadee, Alamo TX-

Great Kiskadee, Alamo, Texas.

The day after Christmas we went to the wild bird feed store and picked up a sack of our favorite mix.  Charlie, the cardinal, looked brilliant but lonely and hungry out by the fence in back, in the single digit temperatures, the frost and the snow.  I did some catching up on my favorite nature blog, Backyard Biology, by my friend Sue (whose photo of an American Redstart I was privileged to use on my first book cover three years ago).  She has shared her favorite non-Minnesota bird shots from the past year, also giving permission for me to share them with you.


Red-winged Blackbirds-Alamo, TX

Male Red-wing Blackbirds in Alamo, Texas.

Phainopepla-Tucson, AZ

Phainpepla, Tuscon, Arizona.

Gila Woodpeckers at their nest, Tucson, AZ

Gila Woodpeckers, Tucson, Arizona.

Magnificent Hummingbird-Santa Rita Lodge, AZ

Magnificent Hummingbird, Santa Ridge Lodge, Arizona.

Cactus wren-Tucson, AZ

Cactus Wren, Tucson, Arizona.

Tri-colored Heron, Padre Island, TX

Tri-colored Heron, Padre Island, Texas.

Painted Redstart (or Whitestart), Portal AZ

And my Painted Redstart, Portal, Arizona.


Happy New Year 2018 to feathered and non-feathered friends alike.  Let’s hear it for protected habitats in the year to come.













Amazing Audubon Photos

I can only guess how the judges determined the best entries for the eighth annual Audubon Photo Awards.  Over 5,000 camera bugs from 49 states and eight Canadian provinces submitted their work, some of which has been put on display at the Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

The best thing to do is just sit back and enjoy them.

From top left, above, Gentoo Penguin by Deborah Albert (overall winner), Great Gray Owl by Steve Mattheis, Carmine Bee-eater by Zachary Webster (youth), Mute Swan by Christopher Schlaf, Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese by Karen R. Schuenenmann, and Varied Thrush by Heather Roskelley.

Work from other photographers in the best 100, above: Gary Rolinette, Carole Wiley, Brian Genge, Nancy Gaudiro (my personal favorite, a duck), Ralph Ganes, and Christ Hartzell.

John James Audubon, who had to rely on watercolor paints and paper to convey his images, would surely be marveling as much as we are.

To see more, including the stories behind the photographs, locations and types of cameras used, visit http://www.audubon.org/magazine/summer-2017/the-2017-audubon-photography-awards-winners.

The Birds Have Come Back

American Goldfinch by Deborah O’Sullivan

In a letter from the 1870s, a teenaged Theodore Roosevelt wrote about the greening of spring trees and flowers, but, “above all,” he said, “the birds have come back.”

Sentiments have not changed in the years that have passed.  It is still good to hear melodic warblers and see bright finches after their winter absence, and anticipate the near arrival of the hummingbirds.


Long-billed Thrasher by Hector Astorga


Winners have been published from Audubon’s yearly photography contest — as usual they are stunning.  The top 100 may be seen on the organization’s website (out of 7,000 entries).  Although there are many exotic kinds captured by the cameras, my favorites are of the hermit thrush and cardinal.


Eastern Screech Owl by William Kleinfelder


Check it out at https://www.audubon.org/magazine/may-june-2016/the-2016-audubon-photography-awards-top-100#54

I Second That

A blogger friend recently posted these pictures under the title, “Photos I Wish I Had Taken.”  I second that.  They are incredible glimpses of the trumpeter swan overwintering in Monticello, Minnesota, taken by nature photographer Jim Radford.

trumpeter swan-Jim Radford


trumpeter swan--Jim Radford


trumpeter swan--Jim Radford

Birds Calling

I would like to share with you some recent shots from Sue, my Minnesota friend, professor of biology, and accomplished photographer.  Her blog, Back Yard Biology, may be seen at http://www.bybio.wordpress.com.

Featured Image


Sandhill Cranes-pair calling-

Sandhill Cranes

Great Blue Heron at a waterfall

Great Blue Heron (Now you see him, now you don’t!)

yellow warbler

Yellow Warbler

eastern kingbird

Eastern Kingbird (the “squawker”)


osprey at the nest


purple martin male-

Purple Martin

Great Shots

In case you haven’t seen or heard, the Audubon Society has published winners of their annual photography contest.  From top, I have pasted and copied here photos of a painted bunting by Zachary Webster, Edinburg, TX (youth award, which TR would’ve loved); black skimmers by Tim Timmis, Port Bolivia, TX; prothonotary warblers by Donald Wuori, Harleyville, SC; sandhill cranes by Jason Savage, Helena MT; and a great egret by Melissa Groo, Port Richey, FL.  Details about cameras and lenses used by the photographers, and 100 more shots may be seen at http://www.audubon.org/features/photoawards.  And while you’re at the website, consider joining Audubon.  It’s a wonderful way to be a part of preserving our birds for future generations.






Sunday Dinner

 blog birds margaret january 054

Company came today after I found a different cage for my homemade suet (see previous post for the recipe).  It seems the double-sided, cedar roof model was easy for squirrels to dump on the ground, while the simple one has latches to prevent that.

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blog birds margaret january 050

Hairy woodpeckers, nuthatches, tufted titmice, sparrows, and juncos dropped in for a high energy meal, making a pretty picture against the gentle January snowfall.

blog birds margaret january 025

           blog birds margaret january 018           

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Making Suet Cakes

In light of their recent report on dwindling habitats, the National Audubon Society has urged us to provide space and food for our avian friends.  This month I tried some recipes for suet cakes.  I know you can buy these from hardware and home improvement stores, but I wanted to make a gift from me to the birds.

The first wasn’t exactly a recipe, but ingredients someone told me to use.  Maybe I didn’t hear right – I thought it included Crisco, which I had on hand.  The birds didn’t care much for it.  Squirrels did, though, and had no trouble polishing off the hydrogenated treats.

Then I did what I should have done in the first place, a little reading, at http://www.allaboutbirds.org,  I was reminded that suet, an energy food, is animal fat, not vegetable fat.  I hadn’t had lard in my cupboard for quite some time so I went to the grocery store and picked up a tub (maybe I’ll make a few pie crusts).

Woodpeckers, chickadees, creepers and wrens like suet.  When temperatures rise, however, it can cause problems for them:  Soft suet can coat belly feathers of mother birds and prevent growth of embryos in their eggs.  Also, when the outside temperature grows still warmer, the fat turns rancid.

So I made two different mixtures using lard.

Recipe A:

  • one cup lard
  • one-half cup peanut butter
  • three cups cornmeal (yellow is preferable, but I had white)

Recipe B:

  • one cup lard
  • one cup peanut butter
  • one-fourth cup sugar
  • one cup flour
  • one cup oatmeal
  • one cup chopped peanuts
  • one cup sunflower seeds or wild bird seed

I melted the lard and peanut butter together for each batch, then added the rest.  Among the many recipes I read, the rule of thumb seemed to be one part melted fat/peanut butter to two parts dry ingredients, and I think I added a little more to make it thick.  Then I poured it into cottage cheese and margarine containers, and put them into the freezer to harden.   After a few hours I took them out, poured hot water over the containers, unmolded them and sliced one-inch cakes.  I put one of each kind in a wire feeder by our back deck and waited to see who answered the call.

And I waited.  The next day came and still no visitors.  Was my bird chefery destined for failure?  I moved the suet feeder several yards away close to some trees and our dry seed feeder, and advertised with broken up suet chunks in nearby bushes and saplings.  While I haven’t got a good picture of the birds chowing down on it yet,  I did see some evidence the squirrels had been performing circus tricks on the pole.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, dried fruit, including raisins, can be added to suet cakes.  So can dried insects, but I don’t think I’m going there.  The birdies can dig up protein for themselves in the spring.