Look over at the Tuckaseigee River when you’re driving beside it – you might just see a bald eagle, like the one in the photo on the right, which was scene last week along North River Road near Dills boro.
Mark Cantrell, a Balsam native who is a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a phone interview he suspects there might be eagles nesting somewhere along the Tuckaseigee (they like big pines). But, despite hearing reports for years of bald eagle sightings, Cantrell has never located a nest.
The nearest known nesting pair is on Fontana Lake near the mouth of Lands Creek in Swain County, a few miles outside Bryson City. There’s another bald eagle nest on the Needmore Tract, farther west in Swain County, Cantrell said.
The plumage of eagles can help pinpoint their ages. A white head and white tail indicate the bird is at least three years old. Incidentally, females are larger than males.
Bald eagles were almost killed off by pesticides in the 1970s, but have made a comeback. They were taken off the federal endangered species list six years ago.
Cantrell said he begins checking nests Dec. 13, because the birds are back south after spending time farther north. Bald eagles can, however, be seen anytime of the year in Western North Carolina because of migratory patterns that move them through this region.
Before 1982, North Carolina had no breeding pairs of bald eagles, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Because of eagle restoration work, and the expansion of eagle populations in neighboring states, North Carolina now has more than 125 nesting pairs.
Cantrell has asked Jackson County residents to help him track the bald eagles by calling in sightings. He can be reached by phone at 828-215-1739 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.