Bald Eagles in Alabama - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Bald Eagles in Alabama

By Stephen Gallien - email



Just some of the superlatives used to describe the bald eagle.

They're being used a lot more these days in Alabama.

The state's bald eagle population has risen like a phoenix from the ashes.

A just completed winter survey shows the number of nesting eagles in Alabama continues to increase with between 700 to 1,000 bald eagles spending the winter in the state according to Alabama Wildlife Biologist Keith Hudson.

Hudson's work helped bring the bald eagle population in Alabama back from the brink of extinction.

He was part of a program started in the 1980's that returned nesting eagles to Alabama.

It's a technique called hacking, which is where juvenile bald eagles are placed in nests from which they will take their first flight.  Eagles return to that nest to raise their young.

The first four juvenile eagles were hacked on a site near Lake Guntersville in Jackson County in 1985.

Ten juvenile eagles were released a year later. 

It was 1987 that the hacking attempts started paying off with the first confirmed nesting attempt by bald eagles in Alabama since 1949.

However, it wasn't until 1991 that conservationists reported the first successful nests by bald eagles in Alabama.

Hudson looks back on his work with pride.  "It's been professionally rewarding, particularly rewarding to see a banded bird on a nest and know you played a role," said Hudson.

Bald eagles are now being spotted all over the state of Alabama with some seen as far south as the Tenn-Tom waterway in January. 

Eagles were driven further south to winter because of the frigid winter weather in Alabama that caused some bodies of water near normal nesting sites to freeze over.

Melody Cagle wrote on one blog dedicated to bald eagles that she and her husband spotted a bald eagle sitting in a tree on a backwater area of Mobile Bay in Daphne on Christmas Day.

However, Marshall County has been called the hotspot for bald eagles in Alabama according to Lake Guntersville State Park Naturalist Patti Donnellan.

The Tennessee River, Lake Guntersville area is prime bald eagle habitat because of the open waters and large trees for nesting nearby.

For the last three years, Donnellan has conducted Eagle Awareness programs at the state park, which includes guided tours to an eagle nesting site.

"It never gets old.  I especially like to see and hear the excitement of people who are seeing an eagle for the first time," said Donnellan.

On one of her last tours of the winter, Donnellan and her group got to see two little gray fuzzballs poke their heads above the top of the nest at the dam.  "The joyful, collective gasp of all the participants was something I will never forget," she said.

Even though she sees the eagles on a regular basis, she doesn't name them because they are too hard to tell apart.

But Donnellan and other park regulars often joke around about the eagles and their habits with lines such as "there goes Joe, he's usually the first one up in the morning" or "there goes last-minute Charlie, sleeping in late like always."

Alabama has made a significant contribution to the national comeback of our proud national symbol. 

On June 28, 2007 the Interior Department took the bald eagle off the Endangered species list. 

The bald eagle will still be protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle protection act.

The work of wildlife experts such as Donnellan and Hudson will ensure that this big bird which can grow to more than 40 inches tall and weigh more than 14 pounds will be around to be admired by generations of Alabamians to come.

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