By T. Rob Brown
GALENA, Kan. — Despite Benjamin Franklin’s historic proposal to make the turkey the national bird, the bald eagle is here to stay.
Although it may not have been an easy flight for the eagles, enthusiasts still gather to celebrate their annual arrival in the region.
A standing-room-only crowd of avian fans young and old alike was on hand Saturday at the Southeast Kansas Nature Center to get a closer look at some other feathered friends during the “Raptors: Birds of Prey” program, as well as learn more about eagles.
Linda Phipps, volunteer director of the nature center, said the center offers a wide variety of programs, from reptiles to wildflowers to summer day camps.
“The raptor program is always a popular one — we try to do it this time of the year because the eagles are out now,” she said.
Saturday was National Save the Eagles Day. The raptors, which probably came from Alaska or Canada, migrate south to Missouri for winter.
“I think the most important thing is their comeback,” Phipps said. “We almost lost the eagles, but now they’re back in full force. That gives me hope. Maybe other things can come back as well."
“We went to Roaring River (State Park near Cassville) last week and saw the eagle viewing,” said Lorrie Randall, of Webb City. “We saw them fly over the cliffs right after a film on eagles. Missouri is the No. 1 state for eagles in wintertime — I didn’t know that before.”
The nature center’s visiting birds of prey included: Dodger, an American kestral (formerly known as a sparrowhawk); Bella, a redtail hawk (formerly known as a chickenhawk); Hootie, a great horned owl; and Bo, a barred owl (sometimes called a teddy bear owl).
Delia Lister, director of Nature Reach with Pittsburg State University’s biology department, presented the program.
“We don’t have a live eagle to travel with us,” Lister said. “We have one at the reserve but she’s old and doesn’t do too well traveling. People can see her if they come to the reserve.”
The reserve, which is located six miles southwest of Pittsburg in Chickapee, is available by appointment only. Interested parties may contact (620) 235-4727 to make arrangements.
“With eagles, it’s important why the population was reduced and why it has come back up,” Lister said. “There were less than 500 breeding pairs and now we have at least 10,000 nesting pairs due to conservation efforts.”
One of the biggest culprits in the eagle decline was the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which was outlawed in the early 1970s.
“DDT was sprayed all over the place," Lister said. “It moved up the food chain and caused the eggs of raptors, especially eagles, to be brittle. So when the mother sat on the nest, they would break.”
Lister said Nature Reach has to charge for its programs, like “Raptors: Birds of Prey,” but recently established an endowment.
“If we can get enough money in the endowment, we can do these programs for free,” she said. “The university can’t cover the cost of everything.”
Acacia Yohn, 10, of Baxter Springs, Kan., seemed in awe of the raptors at the event.
“I liked seeing the owls,” Yohn said. “It’s neat that they’re nocturnal. It was neat to lift up the feathers to see the owl’s ears.
“I also found out that if you grab a bird when it’s a baby, if you put it back in the nest, the mom wouldn’t care.”
By T. Rob Brown