Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bald eagle spotted in Indiana one of oldest on record

This bald eagle was released by the Indiana DNR in 1988, making her among the oldest banded eagles on record.
Photo courtesy of Teresa Bass.
It’s not uncommon to see bald eagles around southern Indiana’s Monroe Lake these days, but the one Cassie Hudson and her friends recently saw was a rare find.

Hudson, a biologist with the Indiana DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, was on a boat ride with her husband and friends Eric and Teresa Bass when she caught a glimpse of a bald eagle along the shoreline.

“We slowly cruised over, shut off the engine and quietly floated,” Hudson said.

Before they got too close, Teresa Bass put a telephoto lens on her camera and began taking photographs.

Hudson later shared the photos with coworker Amy Kearns and former DNR employee John Castrale, who used an orange color band on one wing and metal leg bands to identify the eagle as C43 — one of the original eagles released at Monroe when the Indiana DNR began its bald eagle restoration program in the late 1980s.

“I was kind of shocked,” said Castrale, who supervised the DNR’s release of bald eagles, peregrine falcons and ospreys before retiring last year.  Bass' long lens provided another surprise — a brood patch on C43's front. "That indicates she's still raising young," Castrale said.

DNR records show that C43 was taken from a nest in Whitestone Harbor in southeastern Alaska on July 22, 1988.

"That makes her nearly 27 years old," Castrale said. "Most birds don't live that long."
In fact, the Bird Banding Laboratory at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland has documented only six banded bald eagles that have lived longer. The lab's longevity record for a bald eagle is 33 years, 5 months.

"A few years ago we had one show up that may have been 23 years old," Castrale said. "I figured that was the last hacked bird I'd hear about, so this surprised me."

The terms "hacked" and "hacking" are borrowed from the sport of falconry and describe the process in reintroduction programs of releasing a juvenile bald eagle from a "hack" — a human-built elevated platform. The goal is to have the eagle imprint on the hack site and return as an adult to nest.

C43 was released from a Monroe Lake hacking tower on Sept. 6, 1988. She was seen near a nest at Monroe in 1994 and is known to have returned to the lake several other times. She also was sighted in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. "She seems to be one of those frequently spotted (birds) early on, according to my old notes," said Al Parker, who worked with Castrale on the bald eagle restoration project in the 1980s. "Back then I called her Jenny." 

Bald eagles were on the state and federal endangered species list when Indiana began its reintroduction program in 1985. Between 1985 and 1989, 73 bald eagle chicks were released at Monroe Lake in Monroe County. In 1991, the first successful nesting occurred, and by last year there were an estimated 200-250 eagle nesting territories in Indiana. Although bald eagles are no longer listed as endangered, they are protected by state and federal laws.

For more information about the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s Bald Eagle Reintroduction Program visit:  http://go.usa.gov/3GyFt