Where Eagles Dare: Volunteers help catalog migratory population of raptors

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Unseen in the Magnolia State for many years, bald eagles are making a return here and across the Deep South, and their numbers are growing nationwide.
Living primarily in secluded areas around significant bodies of water, bald eagles have to take their habitat where they can find it. Once in serious trouble as a species due to habitat loss and other manmade factors, the nation’s bird is making a strong showing across the country once again.
Not unlike waterfowl, some bald eagles reside in Mississippi, but most seen here come and go in a migratory fashion. With record winter weather sweeping the Midwest, migratory eagle populations here this year are among the highest documented in recent times. Last month’s bald eagle survey at Grenada and Enid lakes, one conducted by volunteers each year in January, counted a total of 42 of the great birds.
“Eagle numbers can be considered a barometer for the overall health of the environment,” Sam Marter, wildlife biologist with the Mississippi lakes project office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said. “I enjoy seeing the overall number of eagles grow, but I especially enjoy seeing the successful resident nesting sites. I think it’s a positive way to look at the habitat as a whole and at our overall national population as well.”
Outdoor enthusiasts who spot eagles or eagle nests in the course of their normal activities are asked to report the sightings to their local corps of engineers field office, and otherwise to leave the birds and their nesting sites alone.
“Eagles are very sensitive to disturbance,” Marter said. “Any kind of motorized boat or vehicle will disturb them. Enough foot traffic around their nesting site, in fact, will disturb them as well. The best thing folks can do to help the eagles is to observe them from a quarter of a mile. The less disturbance the better around nesting sites.”
Three resident nesting sites are known to exist at Grenada Lake, and another has been documented at Enid, but Marter says he’s confident there are more around, and more on the way.