Governor Riley Promotes Birding Trails and Eagle Restoration

An eagle hatched in April at the Birmingham Zoo will soon have a new home. Governor Bob Riley took possession of the eagle Wednesday, which was then turned over to the Department of Conservation’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. The eagle was moved from the zoo to rural Lowndes County to a 30-foot-tall tower where it will eventually be released into the wild.

“The restoration of the bald eagle is one of America's greatest environmental success stories, and Alabamians can be proud our state has played a role in saving our national symbol,” Governor Riley said.  Alabama is blessed with an incredible diversity of bird species, including bald eagles, and the birding trails we are creating will give more citizens an opportunity to observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitats.”

 Birding is becoming a favorite pastime in Alabama and draws tourists from many other states. Alabama will soon have three birding trails that cover much of the state. The North Alabama Birding Trail is currently under development and scheduled to open in the spring of 2005. A Central Alabama Birding Trail is in the early planning stages. Both new trails are modeled after the highly popular South Alabama Birding Trail in Baldwin and Mobile counties.

Federal guidelines prohibit the zoo from raising the eaglet in captivity. The bald eagle was downlisted from Endangered to Threatened in 1995 due to successful recovery efforts. Those efforts have been highly successful in Alabama according to Mark Sasser, Alabama’s nongame program coordinator. “The Bald Eagle Restoration Project in Alabama was initiated in the early 1980s and the first eagle was release in 1985. We now have 53 confirmed nests in the state,” he said. “As part of the Federal Bald Eagle Recovery Plan, these nests are annually monitored and any new nests reported for nesting success each January.”

For an eagle to imprint on a geographical area, a hacking tower is used. In this case, the tower is located on Corps of Engineers property. “We have a great partnership with the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” said Ike Lyon, Park Manager for the Corps of Engineers’ Alabama River Lakes Site Office. “We’re eager to partner with them again on this project.”

The Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and the Corps will care for the eagle until it leaves the tower. Personnel from the two agencies will be caring for and feeding the eagle, whose diet consists of fish and small animals.

The eagle will be fed for about four weeks before the cage is opened. At that time feeding will continue for approximately two more weeks until the eagle is able to obtain food on its own. It is extremely important that the juvenile bird have no association between human beings and food, so anyone feeding the eagle must be camouflaged. After the eagle has fledged, wildlife officials hope that it will return annually to the same geographic area to nest. This will occur when the bird reaches sexual maturity, approximately five years of age.

For more information on bald eagles and birding in Alabama visit www.outdooralabama.com.

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