Every July we like to remind folks about our splendid East Texas American Bald Eagles – the symbol of our nation’s independence and strength. Powerful, bold and distinctly American these birds are simply magnificent! With a wingspan of up to 7+ feet, and standing about 3 feet tall, an adult bald eagle only develops its white head and tail at maturity when it reaches about 5 years old.
With an estimated US population of over 140,000 birds, our current eagle population is strong. For over 30 years the Corp of Engineers, the United States Geologic Survey, and thousands of volunteers around the United States have come together to keep tabs on U.S. eagle populations. An event called the Mid-Winter Eagle Count has volunteers take part in this nationwide survey. The process calls for local volunteers to drive non-overlapping routes around waterways during a designated morning in January. This prevents any duplication in the numbers. The volunteers count eagles, list juveniles versus adults, and write down their locations or the directions that they are flying. Why in January? It is the perfect time to count eagles because less tree foliage allows more birds to be seen, also because mature eagles are not solitary at this time. They have reunited with their mates, repaired their enormous nests, and laid new eggs. Families stay close together until April or May when the 3’ tall youngsters are ready to leave the nest.
Some eagles migrate through our area on their way to other locations, some come to nest and raise families here before moving on, while still others stay in East Texas all year around! Our lakes and rivers are powerful draws for these birds because their main food source, fish, is in abundant supply. Voracious fish eaters, they are opportunistic and will steal catches away from other fishing birds, but they also hunt ducks, coots, snakes, turtles, rodents and other tasty creatures. They are true apex predators of the bird world. Fortunately, there is plenty of food for all in our area, and the eagles know East Texas is a fine place to raise a family, or maybe to just stop by for a meal on their way to another destination.
Did you know it is illegal to possess even one bald eagle feather? The bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, but as our national symbol it remains federally protected from hunting, harassment, and all other human interference. All bald eagle feathers are to be turned over to the National Eagle Repository in Colorado, which is run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Learn more about the nature in our incredible area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!