Are Bald Eagles Native to Indiana?
Apparently, they were until they weren't.
There have been a number of bald eagle spottings here in southern Indiana over the past few months. And, I don't mean one or two hanging out in a tree. In November 2022, 20 of them were spotted frolicking around some water near the Duke Energy plant in Gibson County.
Before that, in March 2022, another was spotted near Boonville enjoying an appetizing dinner of roadkill.
As someone who has lived in southern Indiana since the day I was born 46 years ago, the only time I've ever seen a bald eagle in the state has been during visits to Mesker Park Zoo in my hometown of Evansville. So, this recent increase of spottings in the wild (if you want to call a power plant in Gibson County, "the wild") got me thinking about whether or not our national symbol of freedom is native to the state we call home.
Are Bald Eagles Native to the State of Indiana?
When I think about where bald eagles live, I picture them being native to the western part of the United States. Maybe that idea comes from TV shows, movies, or cartoons I watched when growing up, but whatever the reason, I always picture them sitting high on a clifftop out in Wyoming or Colorado, not in the forests or cornfields of Indiana. However, as with a lot of things, I am wrong.
According to the U.S. National Park Service, bald eagles can be found in every single state, as well as parts of Canada and northern Mexico. They prefer to nest and perch in tall trees that provide them with a good view of their surroundings.
So, the short answer to the question as to whether or not they are native to Indiana is, "yes." However, their recent resurgence in the state is thanks to a concerted effort to reintroduce them to our part of the county that started nearly 40 years ago after they all but disappeared.
Indiana Bald Eagle Restoration Project
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), bald eagles were common in Indiana until the 1890s. As we humans like to do when we look to expand our own "habitat," we cut down the trees the eagles called home leaving them few places to go. The introduction of pesticides also had an effect on the birds' ability to reproduce.
Fast forward to 1985 and the Indiana Nongame & Endangered Wildlife Program decided it was time to bring these majestic creatures back. So, they obtained 73 eaglets between the ages of seven and eight weeks old from Alaska and Wisconsin over a four-year period and placed them in a nesting tower at Lake Monroe in Monroe County. The birds were fed and monitored every day until the 11 to 12-week mark when they had grown enough to fly on their own. The first bald eagle nests built by the birds themselves (not by the people behind the project) were found at Lake Monroe and Cagles Mill Lake in 1991, over 100 years since the last time they were found.
Today, there are over 350 bald eagle nests all across the state from Steuben County in the northeast corner of the state to Posey County in the southwest corner, to everywhere in between, and it's all thanks to the effort of the individuals behind the Indiana Nongame & Endangered Wildlife Program who decided it had been far too long since the bald eagle was able to call Indiana home.
[Sources: Indiana DNR / U.S. National Parks Service]