We had them; then we didn’t; now they’re coming back. Bald Eagles have had a “now you see ‘em; now you don’t” history across Louisiana over the past 40-plus years.
My first glimpse of a bald eagle in Louisiana took place several decades ago and the one I saw was sitting on a nest made of a huge pile of sticks and branches high up in a big pine tree not far from my home in Goldonna. Someone had alerted my dad to the eagle nest and he took my brother, sister and me to the piney woods to see it. Unfortunately, too many other people knew about the nest and all the activity caused the birds to abandon the nest.
According to officials with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Goldonna eagle and just about all the others around the state disappeared. In the early 1970s, only seven nests were counted across the entire state. Not only had the birds disappeared in our state, the same thing was happening across the United States. The culprit responsible for the vanishing eagles was a pesticide we know as DDT.
The pesticide did a great job of controlling nuisance insects on crops. Many of the DDT- infested insects made their way in to waterways where they were eaten by small fish, which were eaten by larger fish, which just happens to be a bald eagle’s main diet.
As eagles caught and ate fish, the DDT came with the eagle’s meal with the result being an increasing difficulty of the birds to absorb calcium, the absence of which made the eggs of nesting eagles thin. As a result, eggs were broken before they hatched.
Fortunately, the use of DDT was outlawed in the United States in 1972 and a slow but steady recovery began.
Michael Seymour is an ornithologist with the LDWF who monitors the recovery efforts of these majestic birds and the future of the bald eagle around Louisiana continues to be bright.
“Whereas we had only five to seven active nests in the early 1970s prior to the eradication of DDT, our latest survey show between 300 and 400 active nests around the state with the number of eagle chicks that successfully hatched being high,” said Seymour.
While the number of nests is distributed around the state where there are large lakes, rivers with tall trees, the majority of nests are in southern Louisiana.
“St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes have some of the highest nest densities. Lake Palourd, near Morgan City, and Lake Verret, west of Napoleonville, have several nests concentrated in small areas,” Seymour said.
Bald eagles typically build their nests in September and begin laying eggs in November. Chicks, usually two or three to a nest, hatch by February. If a chick lives to 10 weeks, Seymour considers the nest a success. By 12 weeks, young eagles can fly.
Bald eagles are being reported all across north Louisiana today. Personally, I’ve seen several myself. One of the most impressive sightings I ever had was one day a few years ago when James Ramsaur, director of Lincoln Parish Park, called me to bring my camera; he had something to show me. When I arrived at the park, I saw what looked like a feather pillow had exploded along the pond dam at the park. Sitting atop a tall tree nearby was a bald eagle. Ramsaur explained that an eagle had caught one of the white ducks making their home on the lake and enjoyed a meal on the pond dam.
Bald eagles may be messy eaters but their feeding habits can be overlooked as we welcome the increase in their numbers across north Louisiana.