What’s likely the oldest bald eagle living in the wild in Indiana was found with a dislocated wing and rescued near Worthington, in Greene County, on April 15.
It was the first time the 28-year-old bird had been sighted since leaving the hack tower at Monroe Lake in September 1987. Back then, it was too young to fly, and the DNR’s bald eagle reintroduction program was in its infant stages, too.
“This bird represents everything we’ve done in Indiana in eagle restoration,” said Allisyn Gillet, the DNR’s nongame bird biologist.
The age of the bird was determined by a band identifying it as bald eagle C14. The sex of the bird has yet to be determined.
“This is nesting season, so eagles are going to generally stay pretty close to their nest. I’m thinking this bird was either trying to breed or had a nest and unfortunately got injured,” Gillet said.
Property owners about 2.5 miles east of Worthington called the Indiana Raptor Center in Nashville to report the injured bird. The licensed rehabilitators found the eagle on a riverbank, and took it back to the Raptor Center to give it veterinary care. The bird has stabilized under their expert care, according to Gillet.
Last summer, a 27-year-old bald eagle, C43, was spotted at Monroe Lake by DNR biologist Cassie Hudson and friends. That eagle wasn’t injured. The band was identified from photos taken using a telephoto lens. At the time, it was thought to be Indiana’s oldest bald eagle in the wild.
John Castrale, a retired DNR nongame bird biologist who worked with the restoration from the start, said it was surprising to find two bald eagles so old still out there.
“We tracked them after we released them, and they have shown up in virtually every state east of the Mississippi, down to Texas and up to Alberta, Canada,” Castrale said. “But as they got older and matured, virtually all of the records of them were in Indiana or surrounding states, and maybe Tennessee.
“They’ve kind of homed in, which is what we hoped for and expected.”
Even after the wing mends, it is unlikely C14 would survive in the wild. If the bird is not in pain, it will be kept in captivity for the rest of its life. It’s possible it would become an education bird, Gillet said, because of its significance as a symbol of one of the DNR’s most successful restoration efforts.
Fittingly, a bald eagle serves as the logo for the DNR’s Nongame Fund, which funded the eagle restoration and funds other nongame programs. Nongame Fund money comes from donations. No state tax dollars are used. To donate, see wildlife.IN.gov/3316.htm or write to Nongame Fund, 402 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.
Patti Reynolds, president and executive director of the Indiana Raptor Center, said the possibility of C14 becoming an education bird depends on the center’s ability to stabilize the wing and obtaining the approval of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the DNR.
DNR records show that C14 was taken from a nest in Lincoln County, Wisconsin, on May 13, 1987, and arrived at Monroe Lake on June 9, 1987. C43 was taken from a nest in Whitestone Harbor in southeastern Alaska on July 22, 1988.
The Bird Banding Laboratory at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland’s longevity record for a baldeagle is 38 years.
The terms “hacked” and “hacking” are borrowed from the sport of falconry and describe the process in reintroduction programs of releasing a juvenile bald eagle from a “hack” — a human-built elevated platform. The goal is to have the eagle imprint on the hack site and return as an adult to nest.
Bald eagles wereon the state and federal endangered species list when Indiana began its reintroduction program in 1985. The first successful nesting occurred in 1991. This year there are an estimated 250-300 eagle-nesting territories in Indiana.
Although bald eagles are no longer listed as endangered, they are protected by state and federal laws. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has established guidelines to avoid disturbing bald eagles, including staying at least 330 feet from nests.
If you find an injured wild animal, call a local rehabilitation expert area contacts are listed at wildlife.IN.gov/5492.htm.