Once endangered, magnificent national symbol thriving
PRATT -- Soaring bald eagles were once a rare sight in Kansas, but not anymore. Today, it’s common to see these majestic birds around large reservoirs and even open waterways in large cities, especially in winter. Aggressive protection from habitat destruction, pesticides, and poaching has lifted the bald eagle from the federal list of endangered species to a thriving population that has rebounded during the past four decades.

Bald eagles may live as long as 30 years in the wild. The trademark white head and tail that makes adult bald eagles so recognizable isn't apparent until five years of age. Younger birds are as large as adults but are brownish overall, having irregular white patches throughout the plumage, especially on the undersides of wings. Wingspans are as long as 7 feet.

Winter freeze-ups bring hordes of geese to Kansas, providing ready prey as well as excellent viewing opportunities in the Sunflower State. But waterfowl are not the only prey for bald eagles. They excel at catching fish and often dive over open water to pluck them from the surface. Bald eagles also readily scavenge deer or other animals killed by cold or injury.

In recent years, bald eagles have begun to nest again in Kansas. In 2007, 30 pairs of bald eagles nested in Kansas, usually near large reservoirs or in standing timber in the lakes, where fish are readily available. Nests are huge, and a pair of eagles may add sticks to the platform throughout the year. To date, 330 bald eagles have fledged from Kansas nests since 1989.

Winter is the easiest time to view the national symbol. Look for eagles in trees along rivers and near lakes and reservoirs. December and January offer the best opportunities. Eagles often hunt for food and put on impressive aerial displays early and late in the day.

To learn more and to see striking photos of bald eagles in Kansas, pick up a copy of the Nov./Dec. 2007 issue of Kansas Wildlife & Parks magazine, sold over the counter at limited outlets or by calling toll-free, 1-800 288-8387. In this issue, photographer Mike Blair traces the amazing comeback of bald eagles in the United States and suggests ways to view these beautiful birds while they visit Kansas.