Bald Eagles Featured at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park for July

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will be focusing on the threatened Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), our national bird, during the month of July.

Educational exhibits about the Bald eagle will be on display in the Park’s Visitor Center and Discovery Center throughout July.

Three mature Bald eagles; Spirit, Homosassa and Summer; an immature Bald Eagle named Athena; and Beauty, a Golden Eagle reside at the wildlife park. These magnificent birds could not survive in the wild due to injuries or imprinting.

The adult bald eagles that reside at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Wildlife State Park are injured or imprinted and cannot be returned to the wild.

Two of the adult Bald eagles and the immature Bald eagle Athena are on display, and another is used in outreach programs. The Park received its first two Bald eagles, Abby and Jake, in 1989 from the Birds of Prey Center in Maitland, Florida. Both had suffered injuries that would prevent them from being released.

Bald Eagle Presentation July 20

Park Services Specialist, Andrea Junkunc, will be presenting a special program Making the Connection: An outlook on Bald eagles and the use of ambassador animals in conservation on Thursday, July 20, 2017, starting at 1:00 pm in the Florida Room of the Visitor Center on US 19.

Andrea will talk about the history of the Bald eagle and, how although once endangered, it has recovered and has been reclassified as threatened. She will explain what you can do to help conserve the magnificent Bald eagles and our other native wildlife. Junkunc will tell the story of Liberty, one of the Park’s Bald eagles. There will be no charge to attend this program.

About Andrea Junkunc

Andrea Junkunc was born and raised in McHenry, Illinois. She moved to Florida in 2001 to pursue further education in the areas of animal care and psychology, with an emphasis in animal behavior and training.

In 2003, Andrea was hired at Silver Springs Attraction. Eight months later she had an opportunity to make a department move to the free-flighted birds of prey show. She became leader of that department and then supervisor of all ambassador animals and show development.

Bald eagles build large nests high above the ground. Image by Pat Oberti Manfredo

Currently, Andrea Junkunc is a Park Services Specialist at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in the Wildlife Care Department where in addition to her park ranger duties she holds the interpretive chair position at the park. She works closely with all the park’s animals, coordinates training plans, and animal enrichment programs.

The Bald Eagle and its History

American Bald Eagle Scream by Joe Dube.

On June 20, 1782, the Bald eagle was declared the national symbol of the United States of America because of its long life, great strength, majestic looks, and because it was believed to exist only on this continent.

Maude M. Grant explained the choice of the Bald eagle for the national symbol as follows: “It is said the eagle was used as a national emblem because, at one of the first battles of the Revolution (which occurred early in the morning) the noise of the struggle awoke the sleeping eagles on the heights and they flew from their nest and circled about over the heads of the fighting men, all the while giving vent to their raucous cries. ‘They are shrieking for freedom,’ said the patriots.

Thus the Bald eagle, full of the boundless spirit of freedom, living above the valleys, strong and powerful in his might, has become the national emblem of a country that offers freedom in word and thought and an opportunity for a full and free expansion into the boundless space of the future.”

Benjamin Franklin, however, did not agree with the choice, preferring the turkey who he claimed was “a much more respectable bird.”

Bald eagles are predators, soaring above the earth while they hunt for prey.

 

From Plenty to Protected & on the Rebound

The Bald eagle features a snowy-feathered (not bald) head and white tail, and is the proud national symbol of the United States. This wasn’t always the case.

In the 1700s, Bald eagle numbers in the United States were estimated to be between 300,000 to 500,000. Over the course of decades this majestic bird was nearly wiped out by sport hunting and for “protection” of fishing grounds. This resulted in numbers as low as 500 nesting pairs remaining in the lower 48 states.

Eagle Head by Ralph Bischoff

In the 1940s and 1950s, pesticides like DDT collected in fish, wreaking havoc on eagles and other birds whose diet is primarily pescatarian. These chemicals weakened the bird’s eggshells, limiting their ability to reproduce.

Thanks to the work of conservationist Rachel Carson, the U.S. legislature banned the use of DDT and other harmful chemicals in 1972. In 1976, Bald eagles were placed on the Federal Endangered Species List. Since then, the populations have rebounded significantly, and are currently estimated at about 70,000. As a result of these restrictions, along with reintroduction programs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has upgraded the birds from endangered to threatened status.

Bald eagle in front of the U.S. Flag by Joe Dube.

The Bald eagle prefers to live and nest near bodies of water which provide sufficient food for growing chicks. The birds mate for life, returning to the same spot every year to build enormous nests of interwoven sticks. The Bald eagle’s diet consists primarily of fish, carrion, smaller birds and rodents, occasionally preying on larger birds.

The Bald eagle is the only eagle unique to North America. Its distinctive brown body and white head and tail make it easy to identify. The eagle rarely flaps its wings, preferring to fly with wings extended and almost flat. The hooked bill, legs and feet are yellow. Their call is a high-pitched squeaking sound.  Immature bald eagles are dark without the distinctive white markings which are not present until they are about five years old.

Junior Wildlife Ranger Camp Returns July 17-21

Wildlife Ranger Camp will be the week of July 17 through 21. This group of 11 and 12 year-olds will be learning about Florida’s wildlife and enjoying hands-on activities and learning experiences. Camp topics include mammals, birds, reptiles, manatees, the ocean, sea turtles, and saving energy through alternative sources. Indoor and outdoor activities for children include nature hunts, visiting the wildlife areas in the park and  scientific activities.

Visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to learn about the Bald eagle and the importance of preserving Florida’s wildlife in July. For more information on our events, please call Susan Strawbridge at (352) 628-5445, ext. 1002.