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Active Bald Eagle Nest Confirmed in Knox County
By Conservation Agent Adam Doerhoff
I am pleased to inform you that an active bald eagle’s nest was confirmed in the Newark area in early May. The breeding pair has been spotted in and around the nest regularly. This may be the first confirmed active eagle’s nest in Knox County as no other records were found, although it is possible some active nests were present many years ago. Mackie Johnston of Newark was pleasantly surprised by his find while mushroom hunting. As a protective measure, the nest’s location has been purposefully omitted.
Eagles have been more frequently seen in Knox County the past few winters. While eagles are known to hunt for fish, they are scavengers that can’t resist a free meal. In winter when eagles are most frequently seen in Missouri, some local landowners have set out generous offerings of road-killed or dressed-out deer, dead or dressed-out livestock, furbearer carcasses, and/or other meat scraps in open fields that attract bald eagles and other scavenging birds. The more plentiful and longer lasting the food source, the more eagles are generally attracted. More than 20 eagles have been spotted in the same local field at once.
Each winter, over 2,000 eagles migrate south from Canada and the Great Lake states to hunt the open waters of lakes and rivers of Missouri. Waterways serve as general travel routes for eagles, so it’s no surprise the Mississippi River is an eagle magnet. In January, over 100 can be spotted at once on some days. Missouri’s abundance of lakes, rivers, and wetlands makes our state one of the nation’s leaders for wintering bald eagles. Eagles continue to migrate as far south as the Gulf Coast as waters they hunt freeze, but most return to the northern U.S. and Canada by late February for the nesting season.
Most confirmed eagle nests in Missouri lie south of the Missouri River, most of which are in the Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks area. The most recent survey in 2006 documented 123 active nests that fledged more than 150 eaglets. Missouri’s summer population of eagles is around 300.
Bald eagle nests are up to 7 feet across and 10 feet deep, making them the largest in the bird world. The outside is composed of large sticks and branches while the inside is lined with softer, smaller plant materials. Nests are normally constructed in sycamore, cottonwood, or bald cypress trees over or near water, and are used year after year by the same birds. One or two eaglets are normally hatched. Bald eagles eat mostly fish, but also consume mussels, crayfish, waterfowl, rabbits, muskrats, and turtles. They also feed on carrion (dead animals) during lean times, which is why the timely buffets assembled by landowners can be so attractive to them.
In 1782, when the bald eagle was adopted as our national emblem, about 20,000 nesting pairs of eagles were estimated in the United States. Over the next 200 years bald eagle numbers plummeted due to habitat destruction, environmental contamination, and senseless shootings. By 1978, this once common bird was declared an endangered species in 43 states, including Missouri. Conservationists and lawmakers banded together to act. DDT and other harmful pesticides were banned, relocation and restoration efforts were boosted, public education campaigns were launched, and protection measures were taken. The federal Eagle Protection Act of 1975 makes it a felony to shoot an eagle or disturb its nest.
The bald eagle’s recent and continued comeback is a testament to the persistent efforts of many. In 1995 the federal government downgraded the species from endangered to threatened. In 2007, it was removed from the list entirely, marking perhaps the most successful recovery effort in endangered species history. Our recently confirmed nest near Newark is truly an asset to the county.