A nesting pair of bald eagles in Greenfield! Who would have imagined that next to a subdivision in close proximity to I-70, on the edge of the city limits, we would be treated to a year-long educational opportunity like this.
I’ve had the opportunity to see hundreds of bald eagles on visits to Alaska, but seeing them has not equaled the thrill of seeing our pair of Greenfield Bald Eagles. We have been given a unique educational opportunity, especially for our children.
What is so special and unique about finding bald eagles in Greenfield? When Europeans began settling in North America, it is estimated that the bald eagle population was between 25,000 and 50,000. Their primary source of food is fish, but many thrive on small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels. As North America was settled, loss of bald eagle habitat such as wetlands began to decline, and so did the eagle population. Hunting also contributed to their decline.
Toxic industrial pesticides such as DDT are taken up by fish thus killing thousands of bald eagles until those chemicals were banned from use in 1970.
Bald Eagles were put on the endangered species list in North America in 1967, thus beginning the long process of working to save and increase the species. I’m proud to say that in 1985, Indiana began the Bald Eagle Reintroduction Program.
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website, 73 eaglets (7 to 8 weeks of age) were located at Lake Monroe and raised until they were able to fly at about 11 to 12 weeks old. These released birds established a dozen nesting territories in Indiana by the mid 1990s. Since then, the bald eagle population in Indiana has expanded to approximately 200 to 250 nesting territories.
In 1782, the bald eagle was adopted as the image on the Great Seal of the United States.
It is said that the bald eagle was chosen because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks and also because it existed only in North America.
It represents the spirit of freedom and in 1787 it was officially adopted as the emblem of the United States of America. It is said that the bald eagle ignores the “mobbing” behavior of smaller birds. We have seen this with our Greenfield eagles with their harassment by red-winged blackbirds earlier in the summer.
So much about our Greenfield eagles has provided teachable moments. We watched our male search for a suitable site for the nest. It is in a very strong tree with multiple large supporting branches to support the weight of the enormous nest. Bald Eagle nests are the largest bird nests known.
It is near at least three small lakes to provide an abundance of fish, and it is adjacent to open meadows to provide small mammals for food. The placement of the nest is near the edge of the small grove of trees because eagles cannot navigate without injury through lots of thick branches and foliage because of their wing span.
We watched throughout the winter and spring months as the pair established themselves in our community. Before the leaves emerged, we watched their comings and goings from the nest. In early summer, it became evident that the pair were likely nesting, and our community went on eaglet watch. The division of labor for the birds was interesting to watch.
Thanks to some amazing local photographers like Tom Russo, Bob Burchfield and Greg Chaney, we were able to take early peeks at the eaglets as they shared their amazing images with us. It appeared there were two eaglets, then three. As summer has progressed, we saw them go from little fuzzy things to now one very large dark brown bird. We’ve been saddened to see that it appears that only one eaglet has survived. We will never know the fate of the other two but such is the way of nature, as it is usually the survival of the fittest with wildlife.
We’ve learned that eaglets fly on their own between 11 and 12 weeks old. Our eaglet fledged the third week of July and has enjoyed viewing his new world from the tall sycamore. The quick transition to this point has been truly amazing.
We have learned about nature’s food chain and how God’s creatures survive. Sometimes it is not pretty, but we must not interfere with the process other than trying to keep our pets and livestock safe.
Even though the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, it is still protected and its habitat cannot be disturbed. We saw this when someone was sawing down numerous trees near the nest during last winter. Officials stopped this, and so far, the eagles don’t seem to have been affected by the tree-cutting activity.
Even fireworks July 4 didn’t seen to have a lasting effect. We will see in the future if these were activities the eagles found unacceptable when they and their offspring choose a future nesting site.
I still thrill at the sight of one or both of the eagles sitting on their favorite perch on a tall sycamore south of the tree grove. I’m sure many of you do as well.
Hopefully, parents and teachers will use the remarkable experience of the Greenfield bald eagles as an opportunity for teachable moments. There have certainly been many of these moments for me!
Beverly Gard served 24 years in the Indiana Senate before retiring in 2012. She is a Hancock County resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.