Heart of Louisiana: Bald Eagle Expo
MORGAN CITY, LA (WVUE) - This is the time of year when hundreds of bald eagles are nesting and hatching their chicks in the forests and swamps of Louisiana. It's also the time when bird enthusiasts flock to Morgan City for the annual Eagle Expo and for boat tours that can take you to where the eagles are nesting.
In the winter, fishing guide Captain Ivy St. Romain says it's easier to find bald eagles than fish in the lakes and bayous near Morgan City.
"Maybe 20 years ago you would see one or two, and now it's like hundreds and hundreds of eagles," he said.
In a couple of hours on the water, we spotted more than a dozen of the large birds of prey. They were circling overhead and perched in the treetops near their massive nests.
Just find you an entrance to a lake where the shad is very prevalent, and the eagles stay there," St. Romain said. "They build a nest nearby so they can come down and get food, bring it back to the nest to feed the young.
And the young are hatching. This nest along the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge has a new eagle chick who hasn't quite learned how those wings work. They chicks fledge - take their first flight - at age 10 to 12 weeks. The young one's parents are never far away.
"They were down to about five nesting pairs back in the late 60s, early 70s, and now as of last count which was 2014-2015 nesting season, we had well over 300 nests that were found to be active," said Michael Seymour.
In his last statewide eagle count a couple of years ago, Seymour found 353 nesting pairs - that's over 700 adult eagles, producing hundreds of baby bald eagles every year in Louisiana.
Ten years ago the bald eagle was delisted. It's no longer considered endangered or threatened. However, it is still protected under federal law.
"What that means is you can't disturb them, you can't chase them, you can't make loud noises around them, anything that would potentially decrease their likelihood of survival," Seymour said.
A few of the eagles stay year-round, but most travel north in the spring.
"Interestingly, some of our birds were going about as far into Canada as you could possibly go, spending a few days, a week, a couple of weeks up there, and then starting a return trip," Seymour said.
And when the weather cools, the Louisiana eagles usually return to the same nests. Wildlife and fisheries researchers have found bald eagles nesting in nearly every part of Louisiana, but the largest concentration is in southern parishes.
"The major nesting ground for bald eagles would be between St. Charles and St. Mary, and Terrebonne Parish is the absolute hotbed," Seymour said.
And that's why bird enthusiasts are headed to the Eagle Expo at Morgan City, where you can take a boat ride and you are almost guaranteed to spot nesting bald eagles, and witness a great comeback of a once-endangered national symbol.
The expo is set for the weekend of Feb. 16-18. It features boat and walking tours, eagle experts and photography workshops.
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