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In Travel & Visitors Guide

State leads way in bald eagle’s comeback

Wisconsin has played a big role in the comeback of America's symbol -- the bald eagle.

Since 1975, Wisconsin has sent more than 200 baby eagles, called eaglets, to 10 other states to help boost the national eagle population. Wisconsin eagles have been released near the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and in a Hudson River valley park in New York City.

"Eagle chicks are only taken from Wisconsin nests that produced two or more eaglets. At least one healthy eaglet is always left in a nest for the parents to raise," said Pat Manthey, an avian ecologist with the DNR's Bureau of Endangered Resources. Wisconsin is home to one of the largest eagle populations in the continental United States, with more than 1,000 pairs nesting in the state in 2005, according to the DNR.

Once considered an endangered species, the eagle can now be seen fishing in open water along the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, in the dead of winter. They are throughout western, central and northern Wisconsin and at times even can be seen in areas of southeast Wisconsin.

This writer regularly sees eagles fishing during the trout season in the Kickapoo Valley. Winter actually is a great season for seeing eagles.

In fact, two communities in the state hold special days in January for eagle watchers. On Jan. 20-21, Eagle Watching Days will be held in Sauk City and Prairie du Sac.

This is the 20th annual event. Bus tours to watch the eagles are held, and a variety of speakers give educational and entertaining talks. Manthey is one of the speakers.

"The Eagle Catcher, " a story by Scottish-born Wisconsin River fur trader James Aird, will be presented by Duke Addicks. He will tell the true story of the Eagle Catcher -- how an 11-year-old part Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) and part Dakota (Sioux) boy was almost killed by a powerful eagle. He was trying to capture it in order to prove himself worthy of becoming a leader of his tribe.

The following weekend, Jan. 27-28, Cassville will hold its annual Bald Eagle Days. Once again, tours and presentations will be held. One of the highlights will be a presentation by Kenny Salwey, author of "The Last River Rat," about his life on the Mississippi River.

Both events also serve pragmatic purposes. Observers can participate in the annual eagle population count. This writer has attended both events over the years and can highly recommend them. To see bald eagles in flight truly is a thrill for any nature lover.

UW-Stevens point also holds an annual Eagle Walk, a 200-mile trek walk over the spring break recess to raise money to support the Wisconsin Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Each walker is responsible to raise $200 before the journey. The money is then donated to aid in projects around Wisconsin to buy land for habitat preservation, endangered species protection, and environmental awareness programs.

That UWSP walk traditionally ends up in Glen Haven, on the Mississippi River. Wisconsin's story of the bald eagle comeback cannot be adequately told without a mention of the Eagle Valley Nature Preserve in Glen Haven. Those folks worked on helping eagles bounce back for decades.

The bald eagle is one of the largest birds of prey in the world. The male eagle is smaller than the female. The adult female is about 42 inches tall and weighs 10-14 pounds. The male is about 35 inches tall and weighs 8-10 pounds. The female's wingspan is about 8 ft. The male's is 6 1/2 ft.

"Bald" is a misnomer. It was given to the white-headed eagle during the 17th century. The bird's scientific name, Halciaeetus leucocephalus, means "white-headed sea eagle."

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the nation's other founding fathers chose the bald eagle as our national symbol in 1782. They believed the eagle represented "a free spirit, high soaring and courageous." Plus, the bald eagle is found only on our continent.

At the time the Republic was formed, the bald eagle was common in North America.
The bald eagle's numbers dropped dangerously low over the last century, for a number of reasons, but the outlook is getting better. The decline in the bald eagle population has apparently been halted and perhaps, even reversed.

Even though bald eagles are being removed from both state and federal endangered and threatened species lists, they will continue to be protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, both of which prohibit killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs.

Conservationists view recent improvements with cautious optimism. "Much work remains to be done -- increased preservation of crucial natural habitat, greater public awareness of the eagle's problems, plus more public and private funding for conservation and research," reads the web site of the Eagle Valley Nature Foundation.

The number of breeding pairs nationwide was estimated at 7,066 last year, with the birds thriving in 49 states (bald eagles are not indigenous to Hawaii).

Wisconsin has played a big role in the comeback of the eagle, and you can help celebrate that at the January events in the state.


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