Bald eagles are once again flying high across Indiana skies — and making their homes and raising their young along Indiana’s lakes and waterways. The state’s effort to restore the living national symbol to Indiana that started in 1985 culminated in May when bald eagles were officially removed from the state’s endangered list.
“The eagle, once a sign of imperiled wildlife, will now be the sign of conservation success,” said Robert E. Carter Jr., director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “Everyone who has supported the DNR’s Nongame Fund through the years can take great pride in this achievement.
“Hoosiers now have a good chance of seeing one of these majestic birds in the wild in our home state.”
This spring, 100 eagle territories have been spotted in 44 counties. Eggs having been verified in 90 of the nests.
“This is the first time since their reintroduction that bald eagles have achieved 100 pairs in Indiana,” said DNR nongame bird biologist John Castrale, a consumer of Orange County REMC. “The excellent production of recent years should result in further increases.”
The state bald eagle restoration ran from 1985-89, when 73 young eagles were reintroduced at Lake Monroe. These eagles formed a core population in south-central Indiana. The first successful bald eagle nests in the state since the late 1890s were documented in 1991.
The federal goal for Indiana was five nesting pairs by the year 2000; that number was achieved in 1992, eight years ahead of schedule, and the population has continued to increase each year. Castrale said at some point the numbers will begin to flatten out, but he said the eagles have proven to be adaptable to Indiana and the robust trend upward in numbers should continue for a while.
With the status change, the bald eagle is now classified as a “Species of Special Concern” in the state. Bald eagles remain a priority species, meaning that monitoring and management will continue, but to a lesser degree.
Indiana’s move to delist the bald eagle started when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last June it would remove the iconic birds from the federal “threatened” designation of the Endangered Species Act. That action became effective Aug. 8, 2007.
With the final rule to delist the bald eagle, the USFWS estimated there were almost 9,800 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states.
Carter said the DNR worked with the USFWS and Hoosier landowners to make sure breeding pairs have had every chance to succeed. Several of Indiana’s electric cooperatives have also cooperated with the USFWS to rework sections of power lines in areas where eagles are nesting to protect them and other raptors from electrocution. This includes rebuilding sections of line to accommodate the eagles’ broader wingspan; and placing protective insulation atop the poles.
“More than any other recovered species, the success with bald eagles demonstrates the power of partnerships in conservation,” Carter said. “As our national symbol, this is a special bird. Landowners have shown great pride and cooperation in having nesting eagles, and we expect this to continue.”
When America formally adopted the bald eagle as the national symbol in 1782, as many as 100,000 nested in what would become the lower 48 states. By 1963, though, only 417 nesting pairs remained and the species was in danger of extinction. Loss of habitat, shooting for feathers and poisoning by the now-banned pesticide DDT all contributed to its near extinction.
But bald eagles were gone from Indiana by 1900, long before DDT was widely used. In Indiana, they disappeared with the vast wetlands that were drained for agriculture.
Not until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the series of flood-control dams and reservoirs, beginning in the late 1950s, did Indiana once again have suitable habitat. From the reintroduction at Lake Monroe, the adaptable birds are now building nests along rivers and even near farm ponds.
Though the endangered classification has changed, bald eagles will still be federally — and vigorously — protected under both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
“The eagle restoration project has been a gratifying highlight of my career,“ Castrale said. “I hope all cooperating landowners and Nongame Fund supporters have the thrill of seeing an adult bald eagle in flight over one of Indiana’s lakes or rivers. These majestic birds would not be there without their support.”
Bald eagles in Indiana
The chart shows the steadily increasing number of bald eagle territories since 1988.
Source: Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Where to find bald eagles in Indiana
Indiana’s Bald Eagle Restoration Program began with 73 eaglets released from Lake Monroe from 1985-89. Today, 100 eagle territories have been spotted in 44 counties and include 90 breeding pairs. Approximate locations of breeding pairs show how the eagles have adapted to Indiana’s habitat. They now also thrive along rivers and streams and even near farm ponds.
Co-ops build for eagles
In the century between when bald eagles last nested in Indiana in the late 1890s and their reintroduction in 1985, electricity came into widespread use. In the 1930s and 40s, rural electrification brought poles and power lines out from urban areas into and across the nation’s vast countryside. But with the big raptors no longer around, electric utilities never had to consider them in the power lines designs that were adopted.
With their reintroduction in Indiana and other states, bald eagles and other large raptors with broad wingspans had this new feature their ancestors never encountered. Occasionally, the larger birds clipped these rural power lines and were electrocuted.
To protect the birds, Indiana’s electric cooperatives have worked closely with federal fish and wildlife officials to comply with approved power line design in areas where eagles and other large birds are present. This includes rebuilding sections of line to spread wires farther apart to accommodate broader wingspans; and placing protective insulation and perch guards on equipment and lines atop the poles.
Support Indiana’s wildlife
Efforts like the eagle reintroduction program do not receive state tax appropriations and are funded exclusively through contributions to the Indiana Nongame Fund.
You can donate all or part of your tax refund on your state tax form; or download a donation form at http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/5420.htm
; or write to: Nongame Fund, 402 W. Washington St., #W273, Indianapolis, IN 46204.
For more information
Here are some sites to find information about Indiana’s eagles:
Indiana’s Bald Eagle Reintroduction Program
Eagles at Lake Monroe
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Bald Eagle page (with multiple links)
Link to sidebar on Indiana’s resident bald eagle