The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Displaying items by tag: bald eagle dying

Thompson Eagle lead poisoned 1This grounded bald eagle at a wildlife refuge in Missouri eventually succumbed to lead poisoning. Lead from bullets and shot are the latest threat to bald eagles, the recovery of which is an American conservation success story. Betty Thompson

Once again bald eagles are in trouble: This time the threats are a deadly recipe of lead and neurotoxins.

The recovery of America’s bald eagles is one of the greatest environmental success stories of the past 50 years. From an estimated overall population of about 800 at the depth of their decline, they have rebounded to about 100,000 today living near water in Alaska, Canada and all of the lower 48 states.

Hellbender Press has covered the success story that brought our national symbol, the bald eagle, back from the brink of extinction.

The cause of that long-ago calamity was ferreted out with the help of an early citizen-scientist, a retired Canadian banker living in Florida named Charles Broley, who became interested in eagles and obtained a permit to band eaglets. Between 1939 and 1946 he banded a total of 814 of them in the nest before they fledged.

As the years passed Broley observed a population decline and initially thought habitat loss was to blame. But in an Audubon article he penned in 1958, Broley concluded, “I am firmly convinced that about 80 percent of the Florida bald eagles are sterile.”

But why? Broley was the first to speculate that the use of organochlorine pesticides, most notably dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT for short, was somehow the cause; but he had no proof and didn’t know how the chemical compound actually affected adult eagles.

Broley’s suspicions and others were brought to national attention by Rachel Carson in her landmark 1962 book, “Silent Spring.” DDT was outlawed in 1972 and the eagle population slowly began to recover.

And today? Bald eagles still face problems — both old and new.

The old one is lead poisoning.

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Cooper Eagle 1BAmerican Eagle Foundation founder Al Cecere releases a rehabilitated bald eagle at Ijams Nature Center on Aug. 12, 2016. The foundation named her Summit in honor of UT Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summit. Photo by Chuck Cooper.

Is the bald eagle's remarkable comeback fading down the stretch?

(Part one in a series)

It was a damp morning in early spring 2005 when Paul James and I met Linda Claussen at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge along the French Broad River in east Knox County. Heavy rains had fallen through the night, but the clouds were beginning to break. As we walked down Kelly Lane toward the river the vocalized yearnings of thousands of chorus frogs could be heard singing from the soppy floodplain along the river. Spring was definitely here.

The refuge itself was the brainchild of Linda’s late husband, Pete. In the late 1990s, he formed the Seven Islands Foundation, a privately owned land conservancy, and began setting aside property to be protected and restored to a variety of natural habitats. Most of the acreage had recently been fescue pasture maintained for grazing livestock and hay production.

Seven Islands State Birding Park is now the refuge the Claussens imagined 20 years ago. What typically strikes the casual visitor is the overall lay of the land because the narrow roadway opens up to a dramatic sylvan panorama with the Great Smokies off in the distance. It’s an excellent place to view the valley, but in early 2005, we were there for more than just a tour of the idyllic property, Linda was enthused for another reason. Of course, being enthused was an everyday occurrence for her; but on this day, she had something truly remarkable to show us.

Perhaps the wide river or the pastoral remoteness of the location itself attracted the refuge’s newest residents, for we had only walked about 10 minutes down the paved rural roadway when I spotted the first white head. We were at least 300 yards away, but its form was unmistakable. An adult bald eagle was perched on a bare sycamore branch 40 or 50 feet above the swirling water. It was looking upstream over the rich bottom land, surveying its territory. The regal raptor was not alone, for behind it, high in another sycamore, was a classic stick nest as big as a household stove, except conical, like a funnel. A second eagle hunkered down in the nest, incubating.

Much to my companions’ surprise, I whooped with the zeal of an 8-year-old. As the crow flies, Seven Islands is slightly less than 12 miles northeast of my Chapman Ridge home, practically my backyard. The nascent refuge had proven the wisdom to the “Field of Dreams” adage: “If you build it, they will come.”

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