Outdoor Corner: The Majestic Eagle

Lyle Johnson
One of the pair of bald eagles that have a nest in Flat Lake.

In the spring we talked about the wild turkey being in the running for our national bird and how its character was more desirable than the bald eagle. But that majestic, white-headed bird is truly a great sight if you happen to see one flying or perched in a tree.

When I was a kid (long, long ago) eagles were only seen by folks in Louisiana on a National Geographic documentary or maybe the legendary Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But I remember like it was yesterday when a pair of bald eagles took up residence in the Spanish Lake swamp.

The buzz was all over as folks wondered how they could get a look at them. The East Ascension Sportsman’s League had a few members that were interested in viewing the nest, but that wasn’t as easy to accomplish.

As the desire to view the eagles rose, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries had to do something to regulate the attempts. They were very concerned about the effect of people messing with them (even with good intentions), and the possibility that all the attention would be detrimental to the nesting process.

This was as rare of a wildlife phenomenon as anyone back then had ever witnessed. The decision was made that if a person got within 200 yards of the nest, a citation would be issued for harassment of wildlife. That has certainly changed today, but it wasn’t always that way.

At the turn of the 20th century eagle feathers were very desirable, so killing of bald eagles became a big problem, not just in Louisiana. They were given federal protection, but the numbers still decreased. Not only were “outlaw hunters” contributing to the fall, but the pesticide DDT took some of the blame as well.

In the early 1970s, there were only five to seven active nests recorded in our state. Only four eagle pairs were known in Louisiana in 1960 and five in 1973. The banning of DDT along with the paradigm shift of killing them for their feathers changed things dramatically.

The bald eagle was removed from federal listing under the Endangered Species Act in August of 2007, though it remains federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Louisiana's bald eagle population continues to flourish, according to the latest bald eagle nest survey conducted by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). The survey was done in Southeast Louisiana where the majority of bald eagles in the state reside. The survey showed that there were 264 active nests.

"The productivity and nesting success continues to be good in Louisiana for the bald eagle," said Michael Seymour, LDWF's non-game ornithologist. "The most recent survey (in 2017-18) for eagles shows the number of chicks to be very high. The productivity was close to 100 percent in both the maximum and minimum values of the survey."

In 2014-15 LDWF conducted a statewide survey and surveyed 647 nests, including 355 that were considered active. The parameters changed in the latest survey, as the department only studied the most productive areas.

"You'd say the current survey is almost 100 nests fewer than the last time we flew (in 2014-15)," Seymour said. "But the 2017-18 survey is a much-reduced land area. We surveyed 647 total nests back in 2014-15 in the statewide survey. This time we surveyed 599 nests in a much smaller survey area.

"To get the most bang for our buck, we flew the area where they are concentrated. We basically surveyed around the New Orleans metro area through west of Morgan City. Terrebonne and St. Mary Parishes have some of the highest densities of nests. Lake Palourde and Lake Verret have a lot of nests concentrated in small areas."

Once unheard of then changed to a rare sight, spotting bald eagles in Louisiana has become commonplace. The most famous pair that is easy to spot is along I-10 traveling to New Orleans. Just before the I-310 merge on the right-hand side, a nest that’s been there for years can easily be seen, usually with one of the pair perched on a branch.

The species typically begins nesting in the Southern U.S. in September. Bald eagle pairs will mate for life although they will re-pair if one dies. In November and December, they'll usually lay two or three eggs. Typically, the chicks have hatched by February.

"Once those chicks reach about 10 weeks of age, they're just about fully grown and there aren't many predators that would attempt to take them," Seymour said. "For us, once a bird reaches about 10 weeks we consider it a successful nest. At about 12 weeks they're able to fly."

The survey starts in the late fall as biologists look to time it when the birds have eggs in the nest. The surveys are flown again in the spring to see how many chicks have successfully hatched and nest success and productivity rates are calculated.

"The nice thing about bald eagles is that they're fall-winter-spring nesters," Seymour said. "They have a protracted nesting season, so we're able to go out before leaf out (in the spring) and see the nests fairly well."

There is an active nest in Flat Lake at the end of the Diversion Canal. We get visited by them on a regular basis. There is an active nest where the Diversion and Blind River connect, so eagle sighting in the fall and winter is fairly easy to do in our area.

As a matter of fact, eagle viewing has become so popular in south Louisiana that every spring, the "Eagle Expo" in Morgan City draws more than 100 bird watchers and photographers to one of the hot spots for bald eagles in the South. St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes account for about 100 nesting pairs.

Louisiana now ranks as one of the population centers for bald eagles, with only Florida hosting more eagle nests annually. The number of nesting pairs in Louisiana now has surpassed 350.

EASL Kid’s Rodeo August 4

Just a reminder that the EASL Kid’s Fishing Rodeo will be held this Saturday, August 4 at Twin Lakes in Dutchtown off of Hwy 74. Registration begins at 6:30 a.m. and fishing starts at 7 a.m. and runs to 9 a.m. Ages are from 2 years old thru 14 years old.

Everything is free, and you don’t have to be a member of the EASL to take part. All kids that are fishing need to be under the supervision of an adult at all times. There will be trophies awarded to the winners and door prizes for all participants. Donuts, hot dogs, and jambalaya will be served as well. Bring some kids!!

For more information, you can call Betty Lambert (Rodeo Chairperson) at 225 571-4588.

Until next week, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Be safe in the outdoors, and may God truly bless you!!