An Old Bird Survives
A few decades ago there were zero bald eagles living in Indiana. Now there are almost 300 nesting pairs in Hoosierland. What a success story! Let’s home in on just one of these noble birds.
What's likely the oldest bald eagle living in the wild in Indiana was found with a dislocated wing and rescued near Worthington, in Greene County on April 15. It was the first time the 28-year-old bird had been sighted since leaving a hacking tower at Monroe Lake in September 1987. At that time, it had just learned to fly, and the DNR's bald eagle reintroduction program was in its fledgling stages, too.
Special cages built on long power line polls were positioned in a remote area at Monroe Lake. These are called hacking towers, a term borrowed from the sport of falconry. These hacks are structures where infant eagles can be housed until they learn to fly and fend for themselves. The goal is to have the eagle imprint on the hack site and return as an adult to nest.
Once C14 (the number engraved on the eagle’s leg band) left its tower, it disappeared for almost three decades until property owners about 2.5 miles east of Worthington, IN called the Indiana Raptor Center in Nashville to report the injured bird. The licensed rehabilitators found the eagle on a riverbank, and took it back to the Raptor Center to give it veterinary care. The bird has stabilized under their expert care, according to Allisyn Gillet, the DNR's nongame bird biologist.
"This bird represents everything we've done in Indiana in eagle restoration," said Allisyn Gillet, the DNR's nongame bird biologist. "This is nesting season, so eagles are going to generally stay pretty close to their nest. I'm thinking this bird was either trying to breed or had a nest and unfortunately got injured," Gillet said
Last summer, a 27-year-old bald eagle, C43, was spotted at Monroe Lake by DNR biologist Cassie Hudson and friends. That eagle wasn't injured. The band was identified from photos taken using a telephoto lens. At the time, it was thought to be Indiana's oldest bald eagle in the wild.
John Castrale, a retired DNR nongame bird biologist who worked with the restoration from the start, said it was surprising to find two bald eagles so old still out there. “We tracked our eagles as best we could after they were released. They have shown up in virtually every state east of the Mississippi, down to Texas and up to Alberta, Canada," Castrale said. "But as they got older, matured and started nesting, virtually all of the records of them were in Indiana or surrounding states. They homed in, which is what we hoped for and expected." Even after the wing mends, it is unlikely C14 will survive in the wild. If the bird is not in pain, it will be kept in captivity for the rest of its life. It's possible it will become an educational bird, depending on the center's ability to stabilize the wing and obtaining the approval of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the DNR.
C14 would become a living symbol of one of the DNR's most successful restoration efforts. The image of a bald eagle already serves as the logo for the DNR's Nongame Fund, which funded the eagle restoration and funds other nongame programs. Nongame Fund money comes from donations. No state tax dollars are used. To donate, see wildlife.IN.gov/3316.htm or write to Nongame Fund, 402 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.
DNR records show C14 was taken from a nest in Lincoln County, Wisconsin, on May 13, 1987, and arrived at Monroe Lake on June 9, 1987. C43 was taken from a nest in Whitestone Harbor in southeastern Alaska on July 22, 1988.
The Bird Banding Laboratory at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland's longevity record for a bald eagle is 38 years.