Eagles on the Rise

Once on the brink of extinction, the number of bald eagles is growing in Tennessee.

“The numbers are recovering from DDT, it’s going up pretty quickly,” says Scott Somershoe, state ornithologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Today there are more bald eagle nests in Tennessee than ever before, Somershoe says. “But it’s a slow process,” he adds. “In 1983 we had the first nest in the state. Now we have 175.”

Tennessee had no known successful eagle nests from 1961 until 1983. In 1972, the use of DDT was banned, which has helped with the recovery of bald eagles, but the releasing of juveniles that return when they are old enough to breed has also played a big role, says Somershoe.

There are about eight or nine nests in the Chattanooga vicinity. At Harrison Bay State Park the Eagle Cam webcam allows viewers to see the eagles nest. State park employees give tours to the nest usually between 7:30-9 a.m. starting in April, once the eggs hatch because eagles tend to be very protective, says Don Campbell, park manager at Harrison Bay. Eagles are more likely to stay around if enjoyed from a non-threatening distance at least 300 feet away.

Around Harison Bay, Campbell says they’ve seen bald eagles for the past decade, mostly in the wintertime. At first it was migratory birds from northern states but eventually a pair started to build a nest last year.

Tennessee’s winter population peaks at 300 to 500 eagles. And Tennesseeans can expect to see more bald eagles in the upcoming years as long as there are places for them to nest, says Somershoe.

But bald eagle population trends need to remain closely monitored for at least 20 years, according to TWRA. “Public lands are going to be very important areas,” Somershoe says.

About Bald Eagles:

  • In the lower 48 states, this species was threatened with extinction in the 1950s and 60s due to reproductive failure caused by the pesticide DDT.
  • 10 years - On average, the duration that mated eagles use the same nest. Nests may reach a size.
  • of 8 feet across by 12 feet deep and often outgrows the tree.
  • Eagles usually mate for life.
  • Removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007.
  • Diet is 70 to 90 percent fish – live or freshly dead. Eagles also often feed on rabbits, coots and injured waterfowl.
  • Lifespan has been recorded at 39 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity.
  • Congress declared the bald eagle the national symbol on June 20, 1782. Benjamin Franklin jokingly recommended the turkey (he actually preferred the rattlesnake).

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