The village of Stella in Newton County is inviting visitors for sightings of the national bird today during its annual Stella Eagle Festival.
Chuck Dalbom, Stella resident and festival organizer, said several community organizations will be on hand to provide food and educational opportunities to visitors. They include parents and members of the East Newton High School band, who will be selling baked goods; the Newton County historical Society, which will be serving lunch; and the Stella Methodist Church, which will serve hot chocolate and coffee as well as offer a place for visitors to warm up.
Dalbom also said the newly opened Rosie’s Diner will be open for breakfast and lunch.
The main attraction of the day, however, will be the area’s population of bald eagles.
Jeff Cantrell, naturalist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said there are currently eight permanent eagle nests in the Stella area for year-round residents, but he said in winter the population rises as hundreds of eagles migrate south from the Great Lakes region following the flocks of migrating geese.
“They follow along with the geese and feed on the weaker birds as they make their journey south,” Cantrell said.
Eagles also feed on carrion, filling the niche left by turkey vultures who migrate farther south during the winter. Cantrell said that this year’s eagle population is less than normal because of the mild winter North America is experiencing. He said he expects this year’s migrating population to be around 200 in the area, compared with about 400 eagles last winter.
Bald eagle populations have been on the rise over the past decade. The national bird was once on the edge of extinction, but Cantrell said regulations barring the use of chemicals such as DDT have allowed the population to rebound. Cantrell said DDT devastated hawk, falcon and eagle populations across the country. He said the chemical caused the shells of the birds’ eggs to become extremely fragile. When the birds attempted to incubate the eggs, the shells would often break under their weight.
Now, however, Cantrell said eagles are making a dramatic comeback. He estimates the year-round populations of eagles in the nine counties in Southwest Missouri to be about 20. During the winter, Cantrell said it is possible to see as many as 70 eagles in one location.
Visitors to the festival will be able to access educational information about the birds at Veterans’ Park in Stella where the MDC and the Jasper County Master Naturalists will have a tent with displays and literature. From there Cantrell said visitors will be directed to a viewing area where eagles can be observed using spotting scopes provided free to the public. Dalbom said festivities start at 10 a.m. and will continue until 4 p.m.