Story by Bryanna R. Poulin
Little Rock District Public Affairs
ROGERS, Arkansas—Living on mountain tops, amidst the solitary splendor of nature Bald Eagles have infinite freedom. Its distinctive brown body, white head and up to 7-foot wing span allows them to dive with speeds up to 99 mph into valleys below or upward into the boundless spaces beyond.
While eagles are known for being on the faces of quarters and half dollars and are the American symbol for freedom most people still think they are endangered.
“It’s important to remember that Bald Eagles are protected and are no longer on the endangered species list,” Alan Bland, park ranger at Beaver Lake Project Office, Little Rock District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. “People don’t always know they are protected and not endangered.”
It wasn’t so long ago the eagles were considered endangered.
Shortly after World War II to control mosquitoes and insects, Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane was wreaking havoc for the Bald Eagle. When the pesticide enters the food chain it causes reproductive failure so future eaglets didn’t’ have a chance for survival.
“DDT made the eggshells very thin so they would bust before the eaglet could hatch,” Bland explained. “DDT was in the water where the plants and fish absorbed it and eagles were eating the poisonous fish.
The decline of future generations was a primary reason DDT was banned in 1972 allowing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to place the Bald Eagle as endangered and give the nations bird a chance to thrive.
“DDT was around for years and many people used it because it was a very effective chemical,” Bland said. “When they finally banned it they started hacking stations to repopulate the bird.”
The hacking stations would take eaglets from their wild nests and transfer them to a different location where they thrived in artificial nests. The eaglets lived in cages and human caretakers fed them until their feathers became fully developed and they could live on on their own.
“They [caretakers] would go up to the nest with a puppet that looked like an eagle to feed them so the birds never saw a human,” Bland explained.
Once developed the tiny eagles would be tested for their flying ability and usually monitored with small transmitters on their necks.
“They would put a number on the wing and do a full health checkup, this was way back in the day…the 1980s,” said Bland.
After the eaglets were released and could take advantage of the open land and habitats they began reproducing steadily allowing them to be removed from the endangered list and only be a protected species.
The protection is why Beaver Lake rangers participates in the National Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey that takes places each January. The survey is an agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center and USACE. The purpose is to establish a partnership between the organizations who maintains the long-term, national coordination of the count, data, analysis and reporting.
“We have a certain time frame we have to do our count,” Donna Bryant, park ranger at Beaver Lake, Little Rock District USACE said. “Usually it’s sometime in the middle of January.”
Setting a date may seem easy but there are variables rangers have to consider.
“A date is set but never confirmed until about a week out,” she said. “The count is dependent on how the weather is.”
Not only does weather play a role for the rangers it also influences the eagles.
“With the high winds yesterday they could be as far as Missouri or Kansas,” Bland said. “Wind makes them exert less energy so it doesn’t take them long to get anywhere.”
Luckily for Bland and his teammates covering miles of shoreline has happened without any glitches.
“Besides extreme cold and freezing temperatures we haven’t had any excruciating circumstances or major problems so far,” Bland said.
Another factor impacting counts is lakes like Beaver are huge.
We try to cover as much area as we can, Bland explained. This year we covered 400 miles of shoreline and about 30,000 acres of waters.
While this year’s number was slightly less than earlier years Bland has seen an increase in his 30 plus years of experience. Basically eagles are making a comeback.
There has been a growth of eagles over the years and we now see them everywhere, Bland believes. They are so common now that I’ve seen as many as 269 in one day.
Most rangers know the lake like the back of their hand but that still doesn’t make the count easy.There are no fancy devices to count the birds, in fact rangers only have their experience and a pair of binoculars for the count.
“We have to physically count each Bald Eagle we see,” Bryant said. “With dense woods and limited visibility it would be impossible to get an exact number. We try to get the best estimate but sometimes we just don’t see them because they are too far into the wood line.”
Bland added how important the eagle numbers are to the surrounding community.
“This is beneficial to the public because people are asking if rangers are seeing more or less eagles,” explained Bland. “They are fascinated by eagles and our yearly counts.”
Overall both rangers felt this year’s count was a success.
This year the weather was warmer and conditions better than previous years, Bland concluded. We saw a few nests and our count was more than 100.
Bryant agreed by saying “For a windy day the count was about average compared to past years where we’ve seen more. Overall not bad.”
This year Beaver Lakes final count was 105 total, 80 matures and 25 immatures.