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Bird Count finds 7 bald eagles

A red-bellied woodpecker is among birds seen regularly at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary.

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

Bird counters spotted a local record of seven bald eagles during the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary Christmas Bird Count.

“Ten years ago there were few (if any) bald eagles. On this count we spotted seven! A count high!” said Carl Wilms, who, with his wife Amy, are the bird sanctuary’s resident managers. 

The bald eagle has become a symbol of species success. A pesticide, DDT, had threatened the extinction of the bird. The federal government banned the use of DDT in the early 1960s and listed the bird as an endangered species starting in 1978.

“In 1963, when the species was at its lowest ebb, there were only an estimated 417 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. By 1997, this number had increased to more than 5,000,” according to the website www.abcbirds.org. The bald eagle was removed from the endangered list in 2007.

Wilms said the bald eagle story is, “A terrific example of government regulation being directly responsible for saving a bird species, not to mention the very bird that represents our nation.”

The Christmas Bird Count, on Saturday, Dec. 28, found a total of 39 different species at the bird sanctuary and within 5 miles.

Along with the eagles, the largest birds found were great blue herons. The smallest was the golden crowned kinglet.

The most numerous was the European starling, which Wilms identified as an invasive bird that was introduced in New York City’s Central Park in the early 1900’s.

The four people who participated locally found only one of each of these species: eastern screech owl, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker and northern mockingbird.

The group also continued finding black vultures, a species which used to be considered exotic but is now rather common here. 

“Eight years ago I was questioned about my spotting one,” Wilms said. “Now, they are common. As the climate warms, they are moving north, at least that relationship seems to exist.”

Some birds that have been sighted before but weren’t found this year include turkey vultures, cedar waxwings, killdeer, fox sparrow, purple finch, pine siskin and horned lark.

An owl count was part of the local effort, and Wilms said it was successful.

“We identified three species of owls that are expected in this area. Barred (most common), Great Horned (#2 common and frequently referred to as the “hoot” owl) and the Eastern Screech Owl (a reclusive owl that is frequently misidentified as an immature Great Horned Owl: frequently found in urban areas).

The Christmas Bird Count is organized by the National Audubon Society. More than 72,000 volunteers in the Western Hemisphere spend one day near Christmas counting bird species in their area. The data from the counts provides a picture of how bird species are distributed so that scientists and other observers can spot trends.

The Indiana Audubon Society has participated for 119 years. It organized counts at more than 50 locations this year. Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary, located in southwestern Fayette County, is owned by the Indiana Audubon Society.