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TVA helps count and protect bald eagles

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TVA River Neighbors
April 2006

 

TVA helps count and protect bald eagles

From January to April, crowds gather on the east side of Guntersville Dam in Alabama to watch a bald eagle and her chicks settle into a nest the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

“People come from all over to see that eagle and her nest,” says Hill Henry, an endangered species biologist for TVA. “You can’t miss her. She’s huge and she’s getting old, as you can tell by her yellow feathers.”

  image of eagle  
 

Photo courtesy of USFWS

 

Thirty years is a normal life span for bald eagles, and as they age, their white feathers turn yellow. Young bald eagles are often mistaken for golden eagles because they don’t develop white head and tail feathers until they are about five years old.

Henry recently coordinated TVA’s participation in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2006 winter eagle count. TVA is responsible for counts along three reservoirs: Norris, Fort Loudoun, and Tellico. The count is conducted along a 35-mile survey route designated by the Federation.

“In January, we tallied five bald eagles on Norris, three on Fort Loudoun, and one on Tellico,” Henry says, which is consistent with numbers from previous counts.

Henry also oversees TVA’s efforts to protect the bald eagle. “We routinely modify transmission line project plans to route lines around known eagle nests,” he explains. “We recently did this on a huge power line in Mississippi. We have also de-energized lines to keep from electrocuting birds. In one case, the nest fell out of the power-line structure three years after we had de-energized the line. We did not re-energize it until we were sure the bird had an alternate nesting site.”

Eagles feed on waterfowl, fish, and turtles, so they prefer to nest along the reservoir where waterfowl gather for the winter. Some have multiple nests and will move from one nest to another if disturbed. But most have one primary nest to which they return from year to year to raise their young. Those that maintain only one nest will often keep adding onto it until, like the Guntersville nest, it is huge.

“We encourage people to watch for nests along the reservoir but not to approach them,” Henry says. “To help protect the nests, we rarely publicize exact locations. Guntersville is a good place to see eagles because the nest can easily be watched without approaching it.”

For more information about bald eagles, visit the National Wildlife Federation or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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