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Press Release

Three Banded Bald Eagles Recovered in Alabama

May 22, 2006

Three bald eagles previously known to wildlife biologists were found dead in Alabama this nesting season. During March 2006, two banded bald eagles released as part of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bald Eagle Restoration Program, were found dead and their bands recovered.

A third banded eagle, which was released in Mississippi in 1992 and had lived most of its life in Alabama, was also recovered. The status of each of these birds had been followed by wildlife biologists for many years by tracking their nesting efforts. While banded eagles are occasionally recovered, finding three banded birds in the same season is somewhat unusual.

In the 19 years since bald eagles began re-nesting in Alabama, as of 2005, there have been 415 known nesting attempts, with 462 young eagles successfully fledging these nests. Currently, state wildlife biologists are monitoring 73 active nests throughout the state. The recovery of the bald eagle in Alabama, and indeed nationwide, has been one of the most remarkable success stories in wildlife management.

In the early 1980s, the Bald Eagle Restoration Project was established to restore nesting bald eagles to the state. Historically, bald eagles nested along the Gulf Coast and in the Tennessee Valley in Alabama. The population dwindled in the 1950s and 1960s due mainly to the devastating effects of DDT pesticide poisoning. The chemical caused the eagles and other bird species to lay eggs with shells so thin that they often broke during incubation, failing to hatch. The population plummeted, wintering birds in Alabama became very rare and the breeding population completely died out. DDT was banned in 1972 and the population slowly began to increase.

A few eagles would overwinter in Alabama but these birds migrated north in the spring to nest. They were not imprinted upon Alabama for their nesting behavior. To be successful, juvenile eagles would have to be forced to take their first flight in Alabama to become imprinted on the geographic area. This process is known as hacking, and from 1985-91, ninety-one juvenile eagles were released.  All these eagles were banded at the time of release.

Examination of band numbers revealed the identity and history of the recently recovered birds. One male bald eagle was banded, radio-tagged and released on ADCNR’s Mud Creek Wildlife Management Area in April 1987. The bird was 19 years old and was found dead in March near a nest. At 19 years, it is possible that this bird was near the end of its natural lifespan.

The second recovered eagle, a male, was banded and released in March 1991 from an ADCNR hacking tower on the Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Choctaw County.  It was recovered by a road near the Black Warrior River and is believed to have been hit by a vehicle.

A third bird was recovered during the fall of 2005. Banded in 1992 near Smithville, Mississippi, this bird was one of a pair that had nested for many years near the Coosa River in Chilton County. With its mate, this bird had fledged at least eight young eagles from its nest site on Chestnut Creek.

These birds and others released from 1985-91 represent the original “stock” used to restore nesting bald eagles. Currently, several generations of birds, offspring of this original group, are also imprinted on Alabama and are nesting throughout the state.