|Health dept. employee spots bald eagle near Greenbrier Reservoir
By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
Buddy Wilson had a rare experience just a few weeks ago.
At the time Wilson was driving between McCormick and Spencer roads near Greenbrier Reservoir when he spotted a bald eagle in the roadway.
The eagle appeared to be chewing on a small animal—possibly a possum—when it saw the oncoming vehicle and flew into a tree, Wilson said.
The bird was about 3 feet tall and had all the features normally associated with a bald eagle, he said.
Wilson drives all over the county with the Montgomery County Health Dept., where he is the environmental health director.
“This is the first time I’ve seen one in Montgomery County,” the somewhat surprised outdoor enthusiast said.
Wilson even got a photo of the bird with his cell phone, but it appears out of focus. Its features, however, are still discernible.
Employees with the state Division of Water got a better one in 2015 while working on a study at the reservoir, said Rick Fletcher, manager at the Mt. Sterling Water and Sewer System.
Employees who frequent the reservoir told Fletcher they haven’t seen the eagle “in a while.”
According to various publications about the bald eagle, there are only about 70,000 in the whole of North America (including Alaska and Canada).
Kevin Kelly, a spokesman with the Kentucky Dept. for Fish and Wildlife Resources, said the agency knows of 174 occupied nests in Kentucky.
The number saw a rapid increase of 315 percent between 2007—when the bird was removed from the endangered species list—and 2016, Kelly said.
The bald eagle is currently protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Bald eagles were primarily found in the western portion of the state in the early days of tracking, but are now considerably more dense in the eastern and central portions of the state, Kelly said.
There was once estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000 in the 1700s, but later reached as low as 500 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states, according to a report from Defenders of Wildlife.
Bald eagle numbers have rebounded in the lower 48 states to now include more than 5,000 nesting pairs, based on published reports.
Wilson said he’s aware of a nesting pair that live in the Care Run Lake area. He suspects the bald eagle he spotted may be part of its offspring.
Kelly said there have been bald eagle nests in the Cave Run area in the past and sometimes the bird can be spotted in the region.
There have also been sightings in recent years in Nicholas, Pulaski, Mason, Garrard and Madison counties, he said.
Eagles primarily eat fish, carrion, smaller birds and rodents, a fact sheet from Defenders of Wildlife reports. It says eagles are also known to prey on large birds and large fish.
The publication reports that bald eagles live near bodies of water in Canada and Alaska, and in scattered locations all throughout the lower 48 states and Mexico.
They have a black-brownish back and breast; a white head, neck and tail; yellow feet, legs and beak; and pale yellow eyes, according to a published fact sheet on the bird.
A female eagle’s body length varies from 35 to 27 inches with a wingspan of 79 to 90 inches, a fact sheet says. The smaller male bald eagle has a body length of 30 to 34 inches with a wingspan ranging from 72-85 inches. An eagle’s average weight is 10 to 14 pounds. Northern birds are significantly larger than their southern relatives, according to the fact sheet.
Bald eagles are known to make a high-pitched squeaking sound, according to media reports. They usually produce very large nests from sticks in the top of trees.
The mating season is anywhere from late September to early April, depending on the region, Defender’s of Wildlife reports. The female, reports say, lays her first egg 5-10 days after mating. The eggs are incubated for about 35 days.