Wildlife Officials Say Rehabilitated Bald Eage Released in November Probably Searching For Original Mate

Blakely State Park, AL — The 14-year-old rehabilitated bald eagle that was released at Historic Blakely State Park near Spanish Fort, Alabama, on November 30, 2004 is probably searching for her original mate.

“Bald eagles mate for life,” says Reese Collins with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Atlanta. “Some pairs stay together year round.  Others commonly split up after nesting season and then reunite.” 

Collins says the 14-year-old female bald eagle that wildlife rescuers named Pilgrim will eventually find her way back to her nesting territory somewhere near Chickasaw, Alabama, outside Mobile and wait for her mate.  “If the mate doesn’t return, she may find a new one,” says Collins.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service successfully released the rehabilitated, 14-year-old female bald eagle into the wild the morning of November 30, 2004. The release occurred during the 20th anniversary of Alabama’s Bald Eagle Restoration Project.

“This rehabilitated bald eagle should live for many years in one of the best natural habitats in Alabama,” says Corky Pugh, director of Alabama’s Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division.  “It is symbolic of the restoration of Alabama’s wild bald eagle population over the past two decades.”

Wildlife Officials Uncover Interesting Background of Released Bald Eagle

Meantime, wildlife officials have been doing some checking into Pilgrim’s background and here’s what they uncovered:

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has released 92 juvenile eagles (11-12 weeks old) into the wild since the Alabama Bald Eagle Restoration Project was established in 1984. As of 2003, there were more than 100 known bald eagles occupying 53 active nests in the state. Five of the nests are located in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Known nests are monitored each year by Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division personnel. 

Funding for Alabama’s Bald Eagle Restoration Project comes mainly from sales of Alabama hunting licenses as well as the Wildlife Restoration Program, which is a federal excise tax on certain firearms, ammunition and archery equipment that comes back to the states for wildlife restoration and management.

“We took Alabama’s nesting bald eagle population from zero to more than 100 birds in 20 years thanks to the funding provided by the purchase of hunting licenses,” says Mark Sasser, Alabama’s Nongame Wildlife Coordinator.  “Alabama hunters have been outstanding conservationists for all species of wildlife, not just game species. Most people don’t realize how important hunters are as a funding source to support wildlife projects such as the restoration of bald eagles.”

The bald eagle population in the United States dwindled in the 1950s and 1960s primarily due to the devastating effects of DDT, which was banned in 1972. When the Alabama Bald Eagle Restoration Project began in 1984, bald eagles had not successfully nested in the state since 1949. That changed in 1991, with two successful eagle nests in Henry and Wilcox counties.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates there are now more than 7,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the continental United States. Bald eagles have been reclassified from endangered to a threatened species in the past few years and are protected by federal law.  In fact, bald eagles have made such a remarkable recovery that federal officials have proposed to de-list the bald eagle completely from the endangered and threatened species list.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will begin its annual monitoring of wintering bald eagles in early January and its monitoring of bald eagle nesting sites from mid-to-late January through March.  State wildlife biologists will fly the entire state recording nesting success and the number of eaglets per nest in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bald Eagle Recovery Plan. Anyone seeing a bald eagle nest or an eagle carrying nesting material in Alabama is encouraged to contact the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. Eagle nests should be reported to Mark Sasser, Nongame Wildlife Coordinator, at 334-242-3469 or msasser@dcnr.state.al.us.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes the statewide stewardship and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy them. The department also advises the state government on management of freshwater fish, wildlife, marine resources, waterway safety, state lands, state parks and other natural resources. This includes the administration, management and maintenance of 24 state parks, 23 public fishing lakes, three freshwater fish hatcheries, 34 wildlife management areas, two waterfowl refuges, two wildlife sanctuaries, a mariculture center with 35 ponds and 645,000 acres of trust lands. Other departmental functions include maintenance of a State Land Resource Information Center and administration of the Forever Wild land acquisition program.