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In this episodes, volunteers join members of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and other organizations in the construction and placement of hacking boxes. The eagles are introduced to their new temporary homes and Outdoor Journal cameras are there on the day the first doors are opened and the first birds take flight.
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Biologists estimate that there were up to 500,000 bald eagles in North America when the first European Settlers began arriving. By 1963, there were only 4,017 nesting pairs left in the contiguous U.S., with most of the birds concentrated in 5 states. Bounties and loss of habitat were initially the causes of the diminishing numbers. But the 1940s saw the introduction of pesticides such as DDT into the bald eagle population. With DDT entering the food chain via waterways, females consuming contaminated fish laid eggs with extremely thin shells that were easily broken. After a few decades, much like the Osprey and the Peregrine Falcon, the national symbol of a nation was nearly driven to extinction by chemicals.
In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was created and the bald eagle was given protection under the new law. It was listed as an endangered species in 43 of the lower 48 states in 1978. Thanks to the banning of DDT, stronger environmental laws, greater public awareness and programs to create and maintain habitat, the bald eagle is making an amazing comeback. Today there are about 7,000 nesting pairs in the continental U.S., and bald eagles now nest in every state in the lower 48 except Vermont.
But an effort is underway to bring nesting bald eagles back to the Green Mountain State. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has coordinated a restoration project involving the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Federation, Central Vermont Public Service, Outreach for Earth Stewardship, Green Mountain Power Corporation, Audubon Vermont, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It's an effort that involves bringing six to nine young eagles to Vermont over a three-year period from other states to be sheltered, fed and monitored by volunteers and then released with the hope they will stay and raise their own young nearby. Specially constructed containers called "hacking boxes" were built for the program to raise the eagles in. These boxes have also been used successfully to reintroduce Peregrine Falcon populations.
Hacking boxes try to mimic natural nesting habitat as much as possible. They are twenty feet off the ground to keep the birds safe from predators. They're enclosed from above and on three sides to protect them from the elements. And though they are screened in, they're open enough for the birds to watch the landscape below them, to hopefully get them accustomed to their surroundings. The creation of these boxes was a collaborative effort of various organizations and volunteers who donated their time, construction expertise and heavy equipment to get them built and in place by the spring of 2004. Two of the boxes even contain solar powered web cameras so that five of the birds could be monitored on the website of Central Vermont Public Service.
The boxes are located in the Dead Creek Wildlife Management area in Addison County. Twice a day for seven weeks a total of 40 volunteers made daily trips to them to monitor and feed the eagles, hiking in a half-mile from the Dead Creek fishing access area to the location. They were careful not to show their faces to the birds when they fed them to make sure the eagles didn't associate humans with food. On June 18, 2004, the first two eagles took flight from the boxes when the doors were finally opened. By July 6, all eight birds had left the boxes. Bald eagles do not nest until they reach sexual maturity at 4 to 6 years of age, so it will take time to determine if the program is a success. But with funding in place for another two years, the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative will be continuing its effort to bring America's national symbol back home to Vermont.
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