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.
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