Reporting Heather Brown
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – One of our national symbols is making a comeback along the Mississippi River. For years, the bald eagle had been nearing extinction due to pesticides. But things have changed for the better.
Paul Labovitz with the National Park Service says the experience of seeing a bald eagle is one filled with awe.
“Most adults that you see in the United States today will stop whatever they’re doing if someone said there’s a bald eagle flying over,” Labovitz said. “They will look at it and no matter what the emotion is there will be a smile on their face.”
If you can remember record players and rotary phones, you’ll likely recall a time when seeing a bald eagle was something very special.
But fast forward to 2013 – 27 years since the very first eagle came back to the Mississippi – and you’ll find everything has changed.
Labovitz, and Mark Martell with the Audubon Society, ride down the river from the Wacouta Bridge to Spring Lake just outside of Hastings.
“It was hard to find an eagle nest,” Martell said. “I don’t think anybody would have predicted we’d have 40 eagle nests along the river.”
For eagles, the traditional rule of thumb is that their nests are at least a mile apart. However, this is not the case on the Mississippi River. Eagles are a lot closer, and that’s because there’s so much food.
“Thirty, forty years ago, people weren’t really fishing this river. Thirty, forty years ago, people didn’t really want to swim in this river,” Martell said.
But then came along the Clean Water Act, federal laws protecting eagles and the end of DDT. Slowly the birds came back, first to northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and then closer to the cities.
“As the population increased, those birds needed to find some new places to nest and the river provided really good habitat for it,” he said.
The river provides fish to eat, the tall trees provide ample nest sites and the lack of development provides a little peace and quiet.
The DNR live streams an eagle cam from Ramsey County, and even though three of the eagle’s eggs never hatched this year because of the cold, the camera still catches some beautiful images every day.
“Get rid of the poisons and give them some space to live and they’ll do fine,” he said.
The numbers are impressive. Thirty-eight nests this year, which is two more than last year. Just six years ago, there were only 21 nests.
There is no other metro area in the country like it.
“Every day you can see bald eagles in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul,” Labovitz said.
And Minnesota ranks second only to Alaska in its bald eagle population.
One of the best spots in the cities to see an active nest is Kaposia Park in South St. Paul, but the DNR has a list of other good spots. Click here to see the list and the eagle cam.