Bald Eagle spotted at Oak Mountain State Park—we asked an expert about the visit

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle at Oak Mountain State Park taken last year. (Lauran Massey)

This past Friday, February 5th, guests at Oak Mountain State Park (OMSP) were treated to a visit by a celebrity—a Bald Eagle.

A special moment, our national symbol was seen flying over Beaver and Lunker Lakes in the morning. 

Need evidence? Thankfully, a photo of the majestic bird was snapped by OMSP maintenance supervisor, Jeremy Donahoe.  

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle seen at Oak Mountain State Park on February 5, 2022. (OMSP Jeremy Donahoe)

Q & A With a Naturalist About Eagles

It is not every day we get an opportunity to see a Bald Eagle here in the Birmingham metro area. It is a thrilling sight.

To learn more about this particular eagle’s origins and ways you can see others in our community and across the state, we caught up with Lauren Massey, OMSP’s naturalist.

By the way, this isn’t the first time we’ve connected with Lauren. We interviewed her back in December 2020 about the park’s natural history. The story was titled:

Who knew? Oak Mountain State Park could have been a National Park + other fun facts

After you read that story, which is a wonderful primer about Alabama’s most popular state park, read on for our Q & A with Lauren.

Oak Mountain
Yes that is a tiny frog on her face! Lauren Muncher, Oak Mountain State Park Naturalist. (Oak Mountain State Park)

Bham Now: Who is this eagle that was spotted at Oak Mountain on February 5th?  

Massey: This Bald Eagle is an adult! We know this from their white head and tail feathers. They gain their white feathers at 5-6 years of age when they hit maturity. It is hard to tell if it is male or female. You really need to see them next to each other to tell the difference. Tthe females are larger than the males. I imagine this individual is one of the parents from a Lake Purdy nest, a Cahaba River nest, or one somewhere else nearby visiting here hunting for fish for their offspring. As the “Eagle Flies” what may seem like a far distance to us is nothing to them. They will go where the food is! 

Bham Now: How often do they visit? 

Massey: We see Bald Eagles at OMSP off and on year-round, but mostly in the wintertime during nesting season. We don’t have a nest currently at OMSP, but we do have wonderful lakes with a lot of fish. Bald Eagles are fish lovers! Their scientific name Haliaeetus leucocephalus loosely translates to “Sea Eagle with a white head.” 

Bham Now: How long have we been seeing them at OMSP? 

Massey: Eagles have made a major comeback post DDT and near extirpation from the lower 48 states. I would say that we have seen them more in the past 5-10 years at OMSP and hopefully they will continue to visit more and more as time comes. 

Bham Now: Why is it important/special that we see them? 

Massey: It is a testament to the work being done to protect our wildlife, specifically birds. When hard work is put into the preservation of a species you get wonderful results… like seeing a Bald Eagle soaring overhead on any given day now when just 50 years ago there were only 487 nests in the lower 48 states. With the banning of the pesticide DDT, laws in place protecting our eagles, habitat restoration and protected land, Bald Eagles are now off the endangered species list. In the Mississippi Flyway, which is where we fall, there are an estimated 160,000 Bald Eagles today. 

Bham Now: Tell us about the special Bald Eagle at the Alabama Wildlife Center within OMSP?

Bald Eagle
Alabama Wildlife Center’s Shelby (Bham Now)

Massey: If you want to see a Bald Eagle anytime of the year, come visit the Alabama Wildlife Center located inside Oak Mountain State Park. Shelby, one of their education ambassadors, was hit by a car in the Pacific Northwest sustaining a permanent eye injury. This keeps her from hunting successfully in the wild. She is one of the only Bald Eagles on educational display in Alabama (the next closest one being near the Gulf Coast). AWC’s Clinic Director, Katie Stubblefield, often sees Bald Eagles come into the clinic where they receive excellent medical care before being transferred to the Southeastern Raptor Center in Auburn for continued rehabilitation. Andrew Arnold, AWC’s Director of Education and Shelby’s handler, is a wealth of knowledge on Bald Eagles and other avian species and would love for you to visit their amazing birds. 

Bham Now: Can you see Bald Eagle elsewhere in Alabama?

Massey: This coming weekend is the last of the Eagle Awareness Weekends for 2022 at Lake Guntersville State Park! Bald Eagle safaris, field trips, live bird programs and more!  For more information check out www.Alapark.com.

More Bald Eagles in the Future

eagle awareness
Meet a new friend. (Marshall County Tourism)

Let’s hope we get to see more Bald Eagles in and around the Magic City. Thanks to the work of Lauren, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,  Alabama Wildlife Center and groups like Alabama Audubon, you can bet there will be more Bald Eagle sightings in the future.

Do you have a photo of a Bald Eagle here in the Birmingham area? Share it on our social media channels and tag us @bhamnow

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Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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