Eagles in the Air

An eagle catches a fish at last year's Eagle Watch.

Contributing Writer
Jean Gomory

The bald eagle became our national symbol in 1782. Since ancient times it has been considered a sign of strength. As many people know, the bald eagle has gone through some rough times. In the late 1800’s the United States boasted a population of 100,000 nesting bald eagles. However, the species faced extinction in later years due to hunting and habitat loss. In 1940 Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which protected our national symbol from being owned, hunted, or sold. The population took another hit after WWII when DDT became a popular pesticide. Eagles would eat prey contaminated with the chemical and, as a result, the eggs they laid were fragile due to a lack of calcium. This cause to the bald eagle to be placed on the Endangered Species List in 1960 because there were only 400 breeding pairs in the wild. Federal protection and regulations of DDT allowed the population to recover enough by 1995 for the bird to be moved from the Endangered Species List to the Threatened Species List, from which it was removed in 2007.

Jennifer Moore, the Environmental Education Specialist at Chapman State Park, has been holding an Eagle Watch since 2015. “I started this program because we had an active eagle’s nest that you could see from the park,” said Moore. Sadly, the male eagle died of lead poisoning, so that nest is no longer active. However, this unhappy occurrence led Jen to teach the public about lead poisoning and how harmful it can be to local wildlife. She also started teaching about eagle watching etiquette; such as not getting too close to the nest and not making loud noises. These actions can cause the adults to leave the nest for too long which would allow the eggs to get cold and not hatch.

Chapman State Park Environmental Educator Specialist Jennifer Moore (Center) speaks to a group of people during an Eagle Watch.

Jen’s favorite part of the program is watching the eagles on the nest and being able to see the chicks. She also likes seeing other people enjoying the program and asking to take a picture of the nest through the spotting scope they use to get a better look at the nest, from a safe distance, of course. It is her hope that, because of this program, people develop a new-found appreciation for the bald eagle and respect their habitat.

Locations of past Eagle Watches include Kinzua Dam and Akeley Swamp. These are great locations for spotting eagles and other interesting birds. The first year of the program, the group saw a sandhill crane at Akeley Swamp. Jen suggests that “March and April are good times to watch for eagles as they are feeding their young. The adults are more active flying to and from the nest to find food.”

This year’s event is slated to take place April 15th. Unfortunately, registration is required and both days are full and have waiting lists. The good news is that you can head up to Chapman State Park, Kinzua Dam, or Akeley Swamp anytime to look for these majestic creatures. After all, they don’t know what day it is.