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Bald eagle re-established in Lauderdale County

By Staff
CAREFUL OBSERVATION Park ranger Van McWhorter, left, and Jeff Orr try to catch a glimpse of the eagles and their nests. Photo by Photo Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Chris Whitaker / staff writer
June 4, 2002
In the woods surrounding Okatibbee Lake is a rare sight in Mississippi two pairs of Northern Bald Eagles that have nested and are raising their young.
In 1990, the bald eagle was on the endangered species list. Five years later, its populations grew and it was upgraded to the threatened species list. Today, about 50 of the birds that symbolize the United States at home and abroad live in Mississippi.
At the time, a few Northern Bald Eagles were in the area. Now, the eagle colony has been re-established at Okatibbee with nests on the east and northeast sides of the lake.
What's a hacking program?
The hacking program consisted of a 20- to 25-foot wooden tower. It included a small observation room with a two-way mirror.
McWhorter said it was important to get the colony re-established because the population numbers were low all over the Southeast except in Florida.
The first active nest was found in December 1995 when a nesting pair fledged one eaglet. The eagles departed May 1996. Adult eagles returned six months later, but McWhorter said they were not sure if it was the same pair.
An eaglet was fledged then, and again when the eagles returned later that fall. McWhorter said the eaglet learned to fly and left.
He said eagles do not bear heat well, but have begun to spend more time in the South over the last three years.
Bald eagle behavior
McWhorter said the eagles' diet consists of 90 percent fish; the rest comes from water birds, rabbits, squirrels and the occasional roadkill.
Bald eagles are at the top of the food chain, making them more vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment. They also need a large area to hunt in.
Bald eagles hunt their prey mostly near water, soaring down and snatching fish out of the water with their talons. They don't have to eat every day, but they can eat a pound of fish in four minutes.
McWhorter said bald eagles can be found at catfish ponds in Kemper County, the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Rankin County and in Columbus around the Tombigbee Waterway.
It takes nearly three months for a bald eagle to learn to fly, and 40 percent die during their first attempt. Eagles can reproduce at the age of 4 or 5, and they mate for life.