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Posted 12/17/2014

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By Christina Fox, Stonewall Jackson Lake
USACE Pittsburgh District

Stonewall Jackson Lake in Weston, West Virginia is a proud source of sustainable living for the American bald eagle.

The first documented bald eagle nest in West Virginia appeared in 1981. By 2001, there were 11 reported nests which produced 21 offspring. A year later, there was another nest and a number of non-breeding sites.

Bald eagles traditionally breed in regions of North America south of the Arctic Circle. Their natural habitat is areas surrounding and including large streams and lakes. Bald eagles generally migrate in a north-to-south line of travel along these habitats. They are rarely found away from their habitats unless it is during their migration, and prefer to winter within ice-free interior or coastal bodies of water. Their primary diet consists of fish, but can also include other birds, small mammals, and even carrion. Bald eagles are opportunistic predators that will take advantage of other predators’ kills, sometimes stealing a meal directly.

Unfortunately, the bald eagle has not always had a safe existence. In response to a rapid decline in population the ‘Bald Eagle Act’ was approved and took effect in 1940. The act was designed to reduce the killing of these magnificent raptors and to minimize the destruction of natural wetlands needed for their habitat and sustenance.

Another threat to eagles is pesticides such as DDT. Its use on the eagle’s natural prey has resulted in physiological problems and birth defects including underdeveloped eggs. Since the usage ban of such chemicals, the eagle population has been on the rise.

Thanks to the efforts of wildlife agencies, legislation, and volunteer activities, the bald eagle has been downgraded from endangered to threatened throughout much of their known ranges. Although improving, bald eagles still face risks from pollution, habitat loss, and other anthropogenic impacts. Continued support of this species is essential to its survival.

Stonewall Jackson Lake, and others like it, affords enthusiasts the opportunity to experience these magnificent creatures in their natural setting.

Editor’s note:  Christina Fox holds a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources and referenced material from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resource throughout this article. (Photos by Davette Saeler)


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