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More Bald Eagles Calling Missouri Home

Gary Grigsby

Thousands of bald eagles spend part of the winter in Missouri.  As winter approaches the eagles head south to eat fish from waterways that aren't frozen over as much as say, northern Minnesota.

The town of Clarksville, Missouri is on the Mississippi River about half way between St. Louis and Hannibal. The trees along the river here are a popular spot for bald eagles to nest.  And a lot of folks come out to see them.  That's what I did with about a dozen people on a dreary day earlier this year.  

I was traveling in good company on a small bus that left Songbird Station in Columbia mid-morning.  As we got closer to our destination signs of eagle life began coming into view.  As we rolled along, the tour guide if you will, Amber Vanstrien, answered questions, including one about the sighting of an eagle nest in a sycamore tree on the side of the road.  Vanstrien volunteers at the Raptor Rehab Project at MU and knows her eagles.

A short time after our nest sighting we made a stop at a visitors center just outside of Clarksville.  It's a small town, very tourist and eagle oriented.  Many people are looking through powerful binoculars or spotting scopes set up to view the eagles perched in trees across the river.  With the help of a visitors center staffer, one child saw a baby eagle in a nest there.

The crew from Songbird Station eventually made its way from the visitors center down a hill to a concrete pad near the river where the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) had set up scopes.  Terry Jackson of Columbia was looking through one.  "I'm seeing one eagle up in the tree.  He's looking around, that's pretty cool.  There's two in that one over there."

Like everyone else here, Jackson says she just wanted to see the eagles.  Matt Markley was glad to help her do that.  He's one of the MDC staffers who was here to answer questions.  He said he really likes working when the eagles are in the area.  "On a sunny day when you see that black body and white head floating through the sky, it just kind of gives you the chills when it goes through the sky next to you."  

Nine year old Tristan Clark of Columbia couldn't agree more.  He came here with his grandparents.  "I've always had the dream to fly," Clark said.  "I mean, like seeing eagles in action, it's really amazing.  Just seeing them soar above the air."

The eagles do seem to like winter in Missouri.  Every January the Missouri Department of Conservation conducts a bald eagle count.  And on average for the past 10 years or so, about 2,500 are observed wintering around the state.  MDC also counts the nests.  This year, nearly 250 active nests and that means about 500 eagles calling Missouri home year round.  MDCs Matt Markley said, " The nest populations are going way up.  We continue to see more and more nests that are being used.  More and more young that are being raised in the state of Missouri."

It didn't used to be this way.  Back in the 1960s there came a point in time where for many years there were no bald eagle nests in the state of Missouri.  The federal government in 1978 listed the bald eagle as an endangered species.  It was taken off the list in 2007.