PERU — More than three decades ago, the sighting of a bald eagle in Indiana would have been a rarity.
But a symbol synonymous with the United States has since been reintroduced in the Hoosier State, and sightings of the bald eagle have become a common occurrence.
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website, bald eagles nested in Indiana until the 1890s, and small numbers wintered in the state from November through March. Mid-winter bald eagle surveys conducted since 1979 have shown a dramatic increase in wintering eagles in the state.
In 1985, the Indiana Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program began the Bald Eagle Reintroduction Program. Seventy-three eaglets (7 to 8 weeks old) were obtained from Wisconsin and Alaska from 1985 through 1989 and brought to Indiana. They were placed in a 25-foot nest tower in a secluded bay on Lake Monroe. The birds were monitored and fed daily until they were old enough to fly at 11 to 12 weeks of age. Since then, the eagle population has continued to expand. In 2016, there were an estimated 300 nesting territories in Indiana.
The bald eagle is found throughout central Indiana, along major rivers and other large bodies of water. One of the biggest concentrations of these raptors is at the Mississinewa and Salamonie lakes.
For the past few years, we have taken the opportunity provided by the Indiana DNR to observe these magnificent birds in their natural habitat during eagle watches.
DNR will host a Sunrise Eagle Watch on Jan. 18, starting at 6:30 a.m. at the Miami State Recreation Area boat ramp. Registrations are recommended by calling 260-468-2127.
This site is the largest bald eagle nesting roost in Indiana and worth getting up before the sun shines.
Additional eagle watches are scheduled for Feb. 8 and Feb. 15 at 3 p.m., which start at the Salamonie Interpretive Center. Again, registrations are recommended.
The first time we took advantage of the Salamonie eagle watch we didn’t know what to expect. How many eagles were actually nesting in Indiana?
We had traveled to Alton, Illinois, to observe eagles in that area and did get to observe several.
But the Illinois sightings were nothing compared to the number of bald eagles we observed in Indiana.
At one location to the east of Peru, there were more than 25 eagles nesting along the river banks. It was awesome to watch the eagles fly in for the night and perch on the trees.
At the Mississinewa Lake dam site, we were able to watch eagles drift effortlessly through the air and snatch an unsuspecting fish from the waters below.
Volunteers at all the locations where eagles could be observed had spotting scopes in place.
Those taking part in any of the eagle watch opportunities should dress warm and bring a camera, not a cellphone, to capture images of the bald eagles either in flight or nesting.