GREAT STORY OF SPECIES SALVATION
The iconic American bald eagle is one of the most majestic sights in the North American skies. Over the past 40 years, the bald eagle has risen from the brink of extinction in a conservation success story that has lifted it off the endangered species list as of 2007. Habitat protection and conservation actions have been the keys to recovery for these powerful birds that may weigh up to 14 pounds with a wingspan approaching 8 feet (females are larger than males).
Bald eagles have a life span of 15 to 25 years in the wild and mate for life. Returning to the same nest each year, the nests are enlarged sometimes to 10 feet in diameter and weighing several hundred pounds. Bald eagles typically hatch 1 to 3 eaglets after around 35 days of nesting. Eaglets mature from an egg slightly larger than a chicken’s egg to nearly full size in 9 to 12 weeks. After being encouraged to leave the nest, young eagles often stick around the vicinity for a couple of years before establishing their own nesting territory.
One noted ornithologist who has studied bald eagles in the wild for nearly 20 years is Dr. William Bowerman, Professor and Chair of the University of Maryland Department of Environmental Science and Technology. Dr. Bowerman a raptor expert who works with the African vulture and bald eagles in the US. My son and I joined him recently as he made his annual survey of bald eagles in the upper peninsula of Michigan and northern Minnesota, beautiful country with many lakes in addition to Lake Superior. We also sent 2 nationally-selected Eagle Scouts from the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA) World Explorer Program which I direct. What great marketing for the program, “Eagles working with Eagles”.
Bald Eagles live near rivers, lakes, and marshes to find fish, their staple food, though they will also feed on waterfowl, turtles, rabbits, snakes, and other small animals and carrion. They require a good food base, perching areas, and nesting sites. The Eagle Scouts underwent training in extracting blood samples and handling raptors at the Michigan State University Wildlife Ward. The field crews visited 2 to 6 nests per day where the estimated age of the eaglet is about 9 weeks (nearly fully grown).
Daily routine consisted of locating the nest followed scaling the tree by Terry Grubb, a very experienced US Forest Service Ranger and former Navy Seal with a Master’s degree in Wildlife Management. An eaglet located in the nest would be carefully approached and put in a transport bag, lowered down the tree, and the ground crew would weigh, measure, and extract blood for evaluation of heavy metal and pesticide exposure. The whole process took about 30 minutes and the chick was returned unharmed to the nest. The parents frequently hovered overhead but do not attack and readily accept the chick back into their nest
The Eagle Scouts then shared their experiences to attendees of the BSA Northern Tier High Adventure Base in Ely, Minnesota. Dr. Bowerman states that nesting sites have increased from about 30 when he started 19 years ago to at least 107 in the same areas, a very robust example of the resurgence of the bald eagles. It was a spectacular experience!
Michael J. Manyak, MD, FACS
Global Urology Physician Medical Affairs Lead
Adjunct Professor of Urology and Engineering
George Washington University, Washington DC
Chief Medical Advisor, Crisis Response
Vice President, National Eagle Scout Association