Missouri is the leading state for nesting eagles, noted volunteer Al Newsman with the Missouri Conservation Department. During the winter, he explained, the large predatory birds migrate south from Canada and the Great Lakes states.
These migrating birds seek out rivers and lakes along the way to feed on fish.
“More than 2,000 bald eagles are reported in Missouri regularly during the winter,” he said. “Just this morning,” he added, “they spotted 32 bald eagles in and around Clarksville.
In January, Clarksville becomes a prime viewing spot for the migrating bald eagles. Most of the Mississippi River is frozen over during that time, except for a few hundred yards below Lock and Dam No. 24. The majestic birds could be seen swooping down to the water to catch a fish or two.
This year, however, the river was not frozen, but the eagles were still out fishing, but not nearly in the concentration they usually do when the river is choked with ice.
Newman was there to introduce Roger Hollaway and Jay Sisemore from the World Bird Sanctuary. They brought two of eagles being rehabilitated at their sanctuary in Valley Park, Mo.
In the past, Clarksville’s Chamber of Commerce and the Raintree Arts Council have contracted with Dickerson Park View out of Springfield, Mo., for the eagle show. A scheduling conflict prevented that from happening.
The benches in the Apple Shed auditorium filled quickly as eager audience members filed in to see the show.
Holloway is the executive director for the sanctuary. He noted that it got its start in the late 1970s, as a hospital for injured birds of prey.
“And that is something that we still do at our sanctuary headquarters down in Valley Park near St. Louis,” he said. He was impressed with how many people in the audience had visited the sanctuary over the years.
He invited those who had not been there to come and visit to see the variety of birds they have in the sanctuary.
“Last year we took in 689 birds of prey,” he said. They attempt to rehabilitate them so they can be released back to the wild.
It has also operated as a breeding center over the years, Holloway added. Endangered species of predatory birds are used to help rebuild their numbers. Loss of habitat, hunting and pesticide use nearly wiped out the bald eagle population.
Most of the staff and the birds that live at the sanctuary, he said, are involved with the facility’s education programs. They travel to schools, scouting events and festivals to teach people about these birds.
“Education is a vital part of our mission,” he added. They also do field studies. He mentioned doing a bird study ad mines.
“Today, we’re here to celebrate eagles,” he said, “and the return of the bald eagle every year to Missouri.” He estimated a large population of eagles—about 2,500 birds—nest in Missouri. “That’s the largest in the lower 48 states.”
Holloway and Sisemore brought two species of eagles that live in the U.S.
Sisemore brought out Midas, a golden eagle.
“You can see,” said Holloway, “that he is similar in size to a bald eagle.” It gets its name from the beautiful golden feathers on the back of its head. “They have those from the time they’re very young,” he added.
They usually reside out west along the Rocky Mountains and across the Great Plaines, all the way out to the Pacific Coast. They can even be found in the desert in the Southwest.
Bald eagles, he noted, are found throughout the northern hemisphere. There are 60 species around the world, he added.
Eagles are categorized by similarities in habits, Holloway explained. “The Golden Eagle is what we call a booted eagle.” There are many different species of booted eagles around the world. Booted eagles have protection down its leg to protect it from anything that might try and bite it back.
“It tells you it’s hunting on land on prey that live on land,” he said. Bald Eagles, however, live and hunt close to water.
Because of this, it’s rare to see a golden eagle in the wild here in Missouri, Holloway. Earlier in the week, however, they sanctuary received a golden eagle from Bowling Green. It had eaten a bird that had lead birdshot in it and was fighting for its life against lead poisoning.
“It only takes one tiny fragment to shutdown their kidneys,” Holloway explained.
Midas was taken to the sanctuary after a hunting accident damaged one of his eyes. When he swooped in to get his prey, Holloway said, Midas punctured one of his eyes.
Even though he healed remarkably well, he said, when they tested his ability to hunt, Midas was no longer able to hit what he was trying to catch. So, now he’s part of the teaching programs for the sanctuary.
Chirping from the other bird crate signaled it was time to bring out MacGuire, the bald eagle.
“He likes to come out of the box on his terms, not mine,” Holloway said. MacGuire has been with the bird sanctuary for 25 years. He was found out in the wild in bad condition, Holloway explained. After rehabilitating him, they put him back out in the wild. Not too long after that, he was found in the same condition as before.
“He was thin and malnourished, and really showed very little fear of people,” he said. As an eagle, that’s not good. MacGuire was evaluated and they didn’t think he would be able to survive in the wild.
People can visit the bird sanctuary every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Holloway they survive on donations, as well as grants. For more information, contact them at worldbirdsanctuary.org/donate.
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