It seems like everywhere I turn these days there is a bald eagle. They're on the golf course and all the lakes. I like seeing them and I am wondering if you can please shed some light on the reason why so many have suddenly appeared. — A.B., Foscoe
I, too, have been surprised by the recent expansion of eagle numbers in the High Country. It is good to welcome them back to the neighborhood.
Due to conservation efforts, our region is once again home to bears, deer, turkeys, otters, falcons, and eagles — all of which might have been extirpated without intense recovery projects.
Bald eagles were one of the first animals listed on the then newly created Endangered Species List in 1973. Previous conservation laws had protected individual species from overhunting. The Endangered Species Act protects animals and their habitats. For the bald eagle, it put an end to the era of DDT pesticide use and subsequent poisoning of waterways.
The birds made a terrific rebound and were removed from the list in 2007. That year, there were three eagle nests in North Carolina. Today, there are hundreds.
Seeing the eagle should make you feel proud to be an American. Having a top predator in an ecosystem is a sure sign that the network of food webs below them are healthy and stable. Just by living, the bald eagles show us that we are surrounded by clean and thriving waterways.
There is also a greater diversity of bodies of water than existed 200 years ago when the mountains were home to small streams — probably too small and tree-lined for the six-foot wingspan of the bald eagle to negotiate. Since then, power companies and property owners have opened the forest, built lakes and stocked the lakes with large, non-native trout.
I would venture to guess that it is a combination of conservation efforts that have invited the bald eagles to the High Country, but what supports them when they get here are the large bodies of water - easily fished.
As the population expands in general, it will also expand in our area until the population reaches a plateau when a balance is made between predator and prey.
Amy Renfranz is the Director of Education and Natural Resources at the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. Contact Amy and stay up to date with the natural world by following “Dear Naturalist” on Facebook or Instagram. Learn more at www.dearnaturalist.com.