The Bald Eagle in Oklahoma
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The Bald Eagle's Return
Eagles in Oklahoma
you can view bald eagles
and Golden Eagles in Flight
How to Help
Oklahoma is an important wintering
area for Bald Eagles, consistently ranking among the top 10 states for
numbers of birds. Each winter thousands of eagles migrate south from
their nesting range and take up residence wherever they encounter open
water and plentiful food. Because of an abundance of lakes and rivers
and milder winter temperatures, Oklahoma is especially attractive to
these magnificent birds. During severe winters in the north, 800 to
1,500 eagles may gather here. Over the last 20 years resident Bald
Eagles have been restored to Oklahoma, and there are currently over 60
known Bald Eagle nests in the state.
The Bald Eagle's Decline
In 1782, the
year it was formally adopted as our national emblem, the Bald Eagle
population was flourishing, possibly with as many as 20,000 nesting
pairs in what is now the United States.
In the more
than 200 years since the Bald Eagle became our living symbol of strength
and freedom, its numbers have declined alarmingly. Settlement of our
nation led to human encroachment and habitat destruction, killing of
birds for trophies and open persecution because of people's prejudices
toward predators. By the late 1800s, the Bald Eagle's range had shrunk
until it was generally restricted to its current breeding range in
Alaska, Canada, the Great Lakes states, Florida and the Pacific
Northwest. By the early 1980s only about 2,400 nesting pairs lived in
the lower 48 states. In addition, the widespread use of DDT, which was
banned by 1972, resulted in thin-shelled eggs that seldom hatched,
further reducing eagle populations.
The Bald Eagle
was first listed as an endangered species in 1967. In 1978 it was
declared an endangered species in 43 states, including Oklahoma. It was
not listed in Alaska, where approximately 30,000 birds still breed.
Thanks to a conservation success story, in June 2007 the Bald Eagle was
removed from the Endangered Species List.
The Bald Eagle's Return
In 1984 the
Sutton Avian Research Center, located in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, began a
Bald Eagle Restoration Program to reestablish breeding Bald Eagles to
the southeastern United States. Between 1984 and 1992 the Sutton Center
raised and released 275 Southern Bald Eagles. Bald Eagle eggs were
removed from nests in Florida and transported to the center’s captive
breeding facility in Bartlesville. Once there, the eggs were incubated
and hatched. The eaglets were fed using a puppet to prevent them from
imprinting on people. They were then moved to hacking towers located in
high quality habitat in five southeastern states. The were kept confined
to the tower until they were ready to fledge, in the hope they would
return to their release sites to establish territories and nests.
The program was
a resounding success! In
many cases, the captively-raised Bald Eagles have returned to their
release sites to nest, and successive generations have spread throughout
Oklahoma and the southeastern United States. Since 1990, the number of
Bald Eagle nests in
has increased almost annually to over 60 nests in 2007, and we expect
the number of nests to continue to increase. We believe these increases
are a direct result of the center’s restoration program. In addition,
eagles released by the Sutton Center have been observed nesting in
Kansas, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Partially as a
result of the efforts of the Sutton Avian Research Center, the Bald
Eagle population in most areas of the U.S. had increased sufficiently
for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Bald Eagle from
the Endangered Species List in June of 2007!
www.suttoncenter.org to learn
more about their programs
The Bald Eagle
is a migratory species. Those birds that nest in the Great Lakes states
and adjacent areas in Canada fly south to find food for the winter, and
many find their way to Oklahoma. Eagles begin arriving here in late
November and December. The migratory birds mingle with our resident
Bald Eagle population. Their numbers peak in January and February, and
most migratory birds have left for their northern breeding grounds by
the end of March.
In contrast to
their territorial behavior during the breeding season, Bald Eagles
become quite sociable in winter. They roost communally at night in trees
near a reliable food source, with the same trees traditionally used each
year. Up to 200 birds have been known to use a single night roost in
Oklahoma. Wintering birds often use different sites for feeding and
nighttime roosts. A bird occasionally may travel up to 50 miles one way
between its feeding area and its night roost, but most feeding areas are
located near the roost. Bald Eagles tend to feed early in the morning
and may not feed every day. They usually detect prey while soaring or
from a high perch.
many of the Bald Eagles that wintered in Oklahoma lived on the prairies
and fed on carrion found there, particularly buffalo. As the state was
settled and land use changed, buffalo disappeared from the prairies and
wintering Bald Eagles no longer congregated here in such large numbers.
However, with the construction of numerous reservoirs during the second
half of the last century, the amount of habitat suitable for the birds
increased dramatically. Major reservoirs provide areas of flooded timber
that make ideal eagle perches. Open water for fishing usually can be
found below a dam even when other areas freeze.
Eagles have two subspecies, the northern race and the smaller southern
race. Historically, eagles nesting in Oklahoma were probably the
southern subspecies. During the last century, numbers of nesting eagles
have decreased in our state coinciding with a general decline in eagles
nationwide. However, since 1990, Bald Eagles have made a stunning
Return on front page) with
over 60 active nest in Oklahoma as of 2007.
What to do if
you see an eagle nest: Bald
Eagle nests are huge structures of sticks, usually built near the top of
a large tree not far from the water. It will be tended by two adult
eagles anywhere between January through June. If you think you have
found a Bald Eagle nest, report it by calling (405) 521-4616. STAY AWAY
FROM THE NEST AREA! As with all raptors, nesting eagles are easily
disturbed and may abandon a nest if approached. Nest photo by
Robert C. Main
Where You Can View Bald Eagles
Eagles have become a common winter
sight at lakes and reservoirs across Oklahoma. According to an annual
Bald Eagle survey, Oklahoma averages about 830 eagles each winter,
although a record 1,540 flocked to our state in 1991.
These lakes (especially near
spillways) have historically served as reliable Oklahoma Bald Eagle
viewing areas. However, specific Bald Eagle migrating patterns vary each
year depending on weather and other factors. Severity of northern
winters and water discharges from individual reservoirs will often
determine a particular lake’s "eagle attractiveness." These conditions
can change overnight; therefore, a good rule of thumb is to call ahead
for up-to-date wildlife viewing information.
Lake (Twin Bridges State Park)
S. Kerr Lake (Sequoyah NWR)
Altus (Quartz Mountain State Park)
National Recreation Area
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife
Conservation’s Nongame Wildlife Program compiles a list of eagle viewing
events each year at
Bald and Golden Eagles in Flight
When an eagle is seen
flying overhead, look for these characteristics to distinguish between
Bald and Golden Eagles, young and adult birds.
The adult Bald Eagle
with its dark body and white head and tail, is an unmistakable bird.
mmature Bald Eagles show a white line on the underwing
coverts. The body is dark but usually has irregular white mottling in
the feathers until close to adulthood.
(Red-tailed hawk shown for size comparison.)
Immature Golden Eagles have dark bodies with a white
patch in the wing feathers and white at the base of the tail.
adult Golden Eagle is solid dark brown with a golden nape of the neck
and faint bars in the tail.
There’s a large bird soaring in the winter sky - is it an eagle?
Eagles hold wings straight across with splayed wingtips.
Vultures hold wings in a “V” shape.
Red-tailed Hawks hold wings
straight across with splayed wingtips turned upward.
While an increase in public awareness about the value of eagles and the
strict penalties for killing eagles seems to have lessened persecution,
indiscriminate shootings still occur. Each year eagles are found shot to
death or injured in Oklahoma.
The Bald Eagle is protected by a number of state and federal laws, such
as the Eagle Protection Act, each with stiff penalties. First time
violators can spend up to one year in jail or be fined $100,000 on a
misdemeanor charge. A second consecutive violation is automatically
considered a felony with two years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. It
is illegal to pursue, harm, harass, take or attempt to take, possess,
sell, purchase or transport either eagles, eagle parts or their eggs.
If you know of anyone committing such a violation, call Operation Game
Thief at 1-800-522-8039, or contact the state game warden in your
county. You should also call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law
Enforcement Agent in your area: (918) 581-7469 or (405) 231-5251.
Bald Eagle Facts
The word "bald" originally meant "white-headed." The scientific name,
means "white-headed sea eagle" in Latin.
With a 6.5- to 7 foot wingspan, the Bald Eagle is one of the largest
birds of prey in the world. Adults are 3 to 3.5 feet tall and weigh 8 to
15 pounds. Like many predatory birds, the female is larger than the
male, but size cannot be used conclusively for identification.
Male and female Bald Eagles are identical in color. The distinctive
white head and tail mark an adult, a sexually mature bird that is at
least 4 to 5 years old. Younger individuals are almost solid brown,
although a general mottling in the body feathers and a light coloration
in the head and tail develop in older immatures. Both young and adult
Bald Eagles have yellow legs. The young birds have a dark beak and black
eyes, both of which turn bright yellow as they become adults.
Immature Bald Eagles often are confused with Golden Eagles, which are
also nearly solid brown. One characteristic that sets the two species
apart is the leg. The Bald Eagle's legs are naked, while Golden Eagles
have feathers all the way down to the talons. In flight, Bald Eagles
soar with flat wings while Golden Eagles soar with their wings raised in
a slight "V."
Fish comprise the bulk of the Bald Eagle's diet. In midwinter, dead or
crippled waterfowl and other wildlife become important food sources.
The weight of prey items varies from tiny fish to larger carrion. An
eagle would have difficulty carrying anything greater than its own
weight, and eagle prey are most frequently within the 3 to 5-pound
Nests usually are built near the top of a large tree. Enlarged annually,
a Bald Eagle nest can become the largest of any North American bird. The
record nest measured 20 feet deep, 10 feet wide and weighed two tons!
Bald Eagles lay two (rarely three) white eggs each year. Both parents
incubate the eggs for a 35-day period.
At 10 to 12 weeks of age, eaglets are fully feathered, nearly full grown
and can fly from the nest.
Although the life expectancy of wild eagles may be 30 years, some have
lived 50 years in captivity.
The Bald Eagle's eyesight is estimated to be 5 to 6 times sharper than a
Eagles fly 20 to 60 miles per hour in normal flight and dive at more
than 100 miles an hour.
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, with funds provided by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Services (FWS) has developed an eagle rehabilitation program in
order to care for injured eagles and increase community awareness of
wildlife care and native culture. Currently this has only been done by
various independent wildlife rehabilitation organizations nationwide.
The eagle aviary named
Bah Kho-je Xla
(Grey Snow Eagle House) was completed in January 2006 and has been built
to protect Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles. The facility is located in
Perkins, Oklahoma. The eagles are cared for daily by the Aviary Manager,
an Iowa Tribal Elder, who became certified by the FWS as an Eagle
As of January 2009 the
Grey Snow Eagle House offers a home to eight non-releasable Bald Eagles
and one non-releasable Golden Eagle. Those debilitated eagles that
cannot be released to the wild due to the nature or severity of their
injuries are fully protected by the
Tribe through the FWS Religious-Use Permit. This permit has allowed the
tribe the opportunity to gather eagle feathers as they naturally molt to
be distributed to tribal members for their use in cultural activities.
In January 2006 the
Iowa Tribe became the first Tribe in the country to be granted a permit
through the FWS as Eagle Rehabilitators, and in June 2006 they released
the very first tribal rehabilitated Bald Eagle back into the wild at the
Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. To date the Iowa Tribe has received
over 1,000 visitors from around the country to visit the facility.
Contact Aviary Manager
Victor Roubidoux, at 405-334-7471 to arrange for a visit. Please visit
Bah Kho-je Xla
http://www.iowanation.org/home/government/office-of-environmental-services/eagle-aviary to learn more
and see videos of the facility and actual eagle releases.
How to Help
Because of the overwhelming need for permanent care for injured eagles
the Iowa Tribe is committed to expanding the facility. Injured eagles
that are non-releasable are currently being euthanized due to lack of
space. The proposed expansion will include a triage room and additional
side mews (large open cages for non-releasable eagles). With the aviary
expansion the additional space will result in the ability to house 30
additional eagles. To support this project a total of $300,000 is
The Iowa Tribe is requesting your donations to support their work with
Please send donations to the address below care of the Grey Snow Eagle
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
RR 1 Box 721
Oklahoma has a small nesting population of Golden Eagles in the western
part of the state, with some wintering in remote areas throughout the
state. These birds, while not listed as endangered, have also suffered
population declines. In the 1980s, perhaps only six to ten pairs of
Golden Eagles nested in Oklahoma. The two species of eagles are not
closely related. The Golden Eagle is a more western bird that ranges
over mountains and grasslands, feeding primarily on rabbits, rodents and
other small mammals. This species is protected by most of the same state
and federal laws as the Bald Eagle and warrants.
If You Find An Injured Eagl
Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Two who specialize in raptors
are Gary and Kathy Siftar in northeast Oklahoma,
www.okraptors.org at (918)
455-6627 or Rondi Large in central Oklahoma at WildCare,
at (405) 872-9338 . They will be happy to assist or can provide the name
of a rehabber in your area. Be sure to visit both their web sites for
much more information on eagles, raptors and caring for injured
Working to save
eagles that have been shot.
Brochure courtesy of the Tulsa
has been a leader in the protection of Bald Eagles for over 30 years. A
non-public Eagle Sanctuary is owned by the Society for the protection of
wintering Bald Eagles at Lake Keystone, and we host annual Eagle Days to
provide the public an opportunity to observe Bald Eagles below Keystone
Dam in January. For more information on our activities, visit our web
site at www.tulsaaudubon.org