LBL Wildlife Report: Bald Eagles Season Returns to Land Between the Lakes
In the next installment of the LBL Wildlife Report, Tracy Ross and Woodlands Nature Station's lead naturalist John Pollpeter discuss the bald eagle population in Land Between the Lakes, which is one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in the Midsouth area. While the bald eagle might be a symbol of national pride and patriotism now, some of the country's founding fathers didn't want it to be that way.
"Benjamin Franklin was writing [his family] and suggested the turkey would be the better choice as our national symbol," Pollpeter begins. "He didn't like the idea of the bald eagle being our national symbol because it will sometimes eat roadkill. He didn't want a scavenger or a bird that would steal from other birds to represent the US. He liked the turkey because it was an attractive bird; it has red, white, and blue. If you've ever experienced a wild turkey, they can be quite tough. But eventually, the Continental Congress decided on the bald eagle, and I'm pretty happy they did."
One hundred sixty years after Benjamin Franklin's time, the bald eagle faced another challenge to its status as our national symbol: endangerment. Pollpeter explains that as the harmful pesticide DDT became more widely used, eagle populations began to dwindle. Starting around the 1970s, bald eagles were placed on the endangered species list and given further protections to restore their population. One of those protections involved creating a bald eagle population in the Land Between the Lakes area.
"In the 1980s, Land Between the Lakes—at the time, under the Tennessee Valley Authority—brought baby eagles from Alaska, 44 of them. They raised them in these large towers just east of the Homeplace. They raised them not to be seen by humans, and at 12 weeks, when they were adult-sized, they were released into the wild at Land Between the Lakes," Pollpeter says. "The eagles that repopulated our area are not helping to reinforce Arkansas, Missouri, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana. So, it's been a really good, successful program. Could you imagine if we lost our national symbol because we didn't put the effort into conservation?"
Land Between the Lakes celebrates this majestic bird of prey every winter starting in late November. The eagle population is present year-round, but in the winter, more northern eagles begin to migrate to the area as lakes and rivers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan start to freeze. The eagles travel down the Mississippi Flyway and take up nests in the LBL area and surrounding bodies of water.
"We conduct eagle programs every day with our resident eagles that we have here, a male and female. We will be doing eagle tours starting at the end of November, those are van tours. Our boat tours will be back in January, so if you want to get a closer look—and usually, we can see a good number of them out on that boat—that's Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. We will be doing van tours all throughout December, January, and February."
"All you have to do is call our line at 270-924-2020 to be able to register for one of those trips," Pollpeter concludes.