By Debra Nowak, naturalist with 1000 Islands Environmental Center
In the winter of 1987-1988, 1000 Islands Environmental Center in Kaukuana, Wisconsin, was the location of the first bald eagle sighting in decades. Slowly and steadily, thanks to many legal protections and regulations (including those offered by the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Protection Agency), those wintering eagle populations have grown. Today, bald eagles are flourishing all over the country, but especially in the Fox Valley area; what began as two eagles is now 250 eagles and rising.
In celebration of this growth, the 1000 Islands Environmental Center created an annual event to highlight the importance of the Fox River as home to many wintering eagles, and tell the history and ecology of our nation’s symbol. Thanks to a C.D. Besadny Conservation Grant from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, in 2017 we were able to hold our 5th Annual event, and give visitors a chance to see bald eagles in the wild. There’s nothing like watching a steady stream of bald eagles fly off to feeding areas at sunrise or back to their roosts at sunset.
Through this free event we reached close to 1,300 visitors from three different states and 50 communities. The day included guided eagle viewing as well as many hands-on activities and formal presentations inside the Center.
This year we were thrilled to have Wildlife of Wisconsin, a local wildlife rehabilitation facility, join us to share information on the threats that
bald eagles as well as other raptors face today. Just like putting together a puzzle, wildlife rehabilitators often have to piece together observations, blood work and x-rays in order to diagnose ailing eagles and create a treatment plan that will work. Visitors learned that in addition to facing continued habitat loss, bald eagles are struggling with lead poisoning caused by accidentally ingesting bullets.
The biggest draw for visitors to Eagle Days continues to be the chance to see a live bald eagle from the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN. Jennifer Drayna, a naturalist and educator, and her eagle, Angel, shared a wealth of knowledge to two packed crowds. The opportunity to see a live bald eagle up close is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. To know a bald eagle has a 6 to 7 foot wingspan is one thing. To feel the movement of air as it flaps those wings is completely different.
Do you want to help eagles? Make a small change that can make a big difference: Lead contamination in the environment from stray or fractured bullets and lead-based fishing tackle hurts eagle populations. Hunters and anglers can help by replacing lead bullets or sinkers with ammunition and gear made from other metals.