Phoenix the Bald Eagle

Docent Donna Mueller, with the Dickerson Park Zoo, holds onto Phoenix, a female bald eagle, during a raptor presentation at the Appleshed for Clarksville’s Eagle Days. Photo by Stan Schwartz

Eagle program still drew a good crowd 

CLARKSVILLE—It almost seemed as though some of 2020 was trying to rub off on 2021. Some vendors and Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources had decided not to participate in the annual Eagle Days event in Clarksville this year because of COVID-19 concerns.

And the weather was not cooperating either. Warmer than expected temperatures left a good portion of the Mississippi River free of ice. The American bald eagles congregate just below the dam in Clarksville in January to feed off the fish because that area usually remains ice free. This year, however, the eagles were more dispersed because more of the river was open. A steady cold downpour kept most people away from the river’s edge. Still, there were a few hardy souls willing to do a little eagle watching. Most sat in their cars trying to see if any of the majestic eagles would show. The overcast skies and steady rain made photographing the birds difficult at best, especially with so few to see.

Pastor Art Moore and his wife, Dianne, were on hand to help guide people to the events taking place in town. Dianne said the town’s library was also showing a conservation video about the eagles.

“So far it’s a light crowd,” Art said, “but it is a horrible day out there.” Had the event taken place a week earlier, he noted, there would have been more bald eagles to view from the shoreline. He did see some earlier in the day when he and Dianne first arrived.

Clarksville’s Chamber of Commerce decided last year to go ahead and hold the Eagle Days event this year, although it was scaled back from previous events. They sought donations to bring in the eagles from the Dickerson Park Zoo’s bird sanctuary for a educational demonstrations inside the Appleshed. Heaters were set up to keep the main room warm. But over where the eagles were being housed, however, the temperature was a bit chilly.

That did not stop people from coming in to learn about the bald eagles and their relationship to the European settlers who first arrived on this continent and who eventually founded a new nation that needed a symbol of freedom.

Pam Price, the conservation education director with the Dickerson Park Zoo, in Springfield, Mo., said Clarksville has had a long tradition with Eagle Days because it is a “wonderful place to view eagles in the wild.”

She and the others from the zoo brought two bald eagles for the event—Truman and Phoenix. Phillip Faulkner, a volunteer, is helping to rehabilitate Truman, a male bald eagle. Handling Phoenix, a female, was Donna Muller. Also helping during the presentation were Ann Liles and Todd Robitsch. Price said they are volunteers, as well, and donate their time to help with the eagles and to travel to put on the live demonstrations at various events, such as Eagle Days.

Price had to speak loudly in order to be heard over the rain pounding on the Appleshed’s roof.

The female bald eagles are about 25% to 33% larger than the males, Price said.

“Bald Eagles are only found in North America,” Price said. Once the Europeans arrived, the eagles started to lose their habitat. People needed to live close to waterways, which is where the eagles liked to build their nests. They build the largest nests of any eagle in the world. The nests can be anywhere from 6- to 8-feet across and weigh more than 2 tons.

When the bald eagle was chosen to be the country’s national symbol, it was not a protected species. People were still allowed to kill them, Pam said, for their feathers or for sport.

“In fact,” she added, “in Alaska, the fishing industry felt that these birds were taking their fish that they needed to catch … so they put a bounty of bald eagles—25 cents a foot.” Because of that bounty, more than 100,000 were killed at that time.

The reason the zoo’s raptor rehabilitation center has Truman is because he had been shot. Faulkner is working with Truman so he can be used in the zoo’s programs. Phoenix was rescued at the beginning of the Missouri eagle re population program, more than 30 years ago. Although she is strong enough to fly off on her own, Price said, she imprinted on those who found her and would not be able to be on her own.

After the pesticide DDT was introduced into agriculture, the eagle population started to drop dramatically, Price explained, because it went through the food chain. It interfered with the female eagle’s ability to produce calcium, making their eggshells too soft.

DDT was banned, and then bald eagles were protected under the Migratory Bird Act, Price said. “It was listed as an endangered species,” Price said. They had to reintroduce the eagles into Missouri, building nest boxes and collecting eagle eggs from much farther north. The females lay one to three eggs during their cycle, but usually only the first eggs survives to mature to an adult. Price explained the third eggs were collected and incubated so they could be used in the re population program. Bald eagles usually return each year to within 50 miles of where they were hatched.

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