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Eagle successes

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Immature Bald Eagle still with white on wings changing to white adult head and tail plumage. Photo by Marilyn Keigley.

My father-in-law and I were driving the countryside when we spotted a Bald Eagle eating a car killed deer. This is typical behavior for scavenger birds like Bald Eagles. Fish is a high dietary component. Golden Eagles regularly fed on Federally Endangered Utah Prairie Dogs killed on the highway near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. Eagles were hit and killed while eating prairie dogs. I stuffed two for the park service. Golden Eagles and Utah Prairie Dogs numbers declined dramatically for several reasons as did Bald Eagles. 

People realized Bald Eagles like many species comprising our natural heritage were declining. Dr. Wallace, ornithologist from Michigan State University, recognized a problem when American Robins returned in spring to die in large numbers on the MSU campus where DDT was used. The poison bio-accumulated to a lethal level in robins that ate worms and insects. Rachael Carson in her book Silent Spring enlightened the general public to the veil of doom affecting a broad spectrum of wildlife and human health. Her book included information about DDT presence in human breast milk and other health hazards directly affecting people. 

People and industry tried to discredit Carson with hopes that verified and supported science findings would be ignored. Activities to undermine scientific data continue as is currently prevalent by well-funded protagonists opposing climate change evidence. Successes that limited DDT use and other chlorinated hydrocarbons in our country helped eagles and other species increase populations and reduced human health hazards. 

Rather than directly die from metabolized derivatives of DDT, eggs shells thinned and broke under the weight of the parent. With few young to replace long-lived adults, eagles declined toward extinction. It was thought our great grandchildren would not see eagles. Peregrine Falcons also disappeared from most of their range.

The establishment of the Endangered Species Act created hope for declining wildlife and hopefully would help reduce harmful chemicals in our own diet. With the banning of DDT use in the US, conditions for eagles, falcons, other wildlife, and humans improved. 

This past week a friend and I took a Sunday afternoon drive toward Lake Michigan, along the coast and home. We observed twelve Bald Eagles with most being immatures. The young can be distinguished from mature adults because they lack a white head and tail. The long black wings have white bands extending from near the body to wing tips. Eagles seemed to enjoy playing in wind currents on the bright sunny afternoon shoreline. 

The pleasure of seeing young eagles that hatched from eggs with calcium rich shells brings joy beyond knowing the species is recovering from chemical abuses humans released into the environment. It offers comfort knowing our grandkids and future generations might experience healthier lives if we maintain a safe environment for all life. That is one of the fundamental purposes supporting the Endangered Species, Clean Water, and Clear Air Acts. I envision children in the outdoors watching eagles play in the wind. 

Experience elation when you see an eagle eating its fill on a road killed deer. Eagle numbers are increasing despite well-funded efforts to discredit scientifically supported evidence documenting hazards. DDT is still heavily used around the world instead of safer alternatives. People will continue substantive discussions about current issues like the importance for replacing fossil fuels with long term economically sound alternatives. The change to alternative energy can provide our kids and future generations with a healthy environment that serves food production, stable agriculture, and sustainable environmental conditions for people and wildlife.

Bald Eagles are now a common part of our neighborhood nature niche landscape because we recognized our activities impacted their survival and implemented laws to protect them and our health. Whether it is PFAS, climate change, recycling household waste, or the kind, quantity, and frequency of chemicals we use to treat our yards and gardens, it not only affects Bald Eagle survival, we can protect our family’s health and lives. 

Chemicals help us live well but careful selection with minimal application is essential. We challenge our health and wellbeing along with that of coming generations if we do not take responsibility for eagle survival. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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