Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will be focusing on the threatened Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), our national bird, during the month of July. Educational exhibits about the Bald eagle will be on display in the Park’s Visitor Center and Discovery Center during the month of July.
The Park is now home to three mature Bald eagles Spirit, Homosassa and Summer, an immature Bald Eagle named Athena, and Beauty, a Golden eagle. These magnificent birds could not survive in the wild due to injuries or imprinting. Two of the adult Bald eagles and the immature Bald eagle Athena are on display, and another is used in outreach programs. The Park received its first two Bald eagles, Abby and Jake, in 1989 from the Birds of Prey Center in Maitland, Florida. Both had suffered injuries that would prevent them from being released.
Park Services Specialist, Andrea Junkunc, will be presenting a special program Making the Connection: An outlook on Bald eagles and the use of ambassador animals in conservation on Thursday, July 19, 2018, starting at 1:00 pm in the Florida Room at the Park’s main entrance and Visitor Center located on US 19. She will talk about the history of the Bald eagle and, how although once endangered, it has recovered and has been reclassified as threatened. She will explain what you can do to help conserve the magnificent Bald eagles and our other native wildlife. Junkunc will tell the story of Liberty, one of the Park’s Bald eagles. here will be no charge to attend this program.
Andrea Junkunc was born and raised in McHenry, Illinois. Throughout her childhood she was an active member of many avian organization along with her mother. A love of nature led Andrea to her first job, at a small reptile zoo near Wisconsin. Wanting more experience with wildlife, she moved to Florida in 2001, where she pursued further education in the areas of animal care and psychology with an emphasis in animal behavior and training. In 2002 she enrolled in a hands-on animal husbandry course. In 2003, Andrea was hired at Silver Springs Attraction. Her career there started with caring for and doing programs with alligators, snakes and many species of parrots. Eight months later she had an opportunity to make a department move to the free-flighted birds of prey show. She was thrilled to be working with exotic and native eagles, falcons and hawks, along with many species of owls and Andrea’s personal favorite, the vultures. She went on to become leader of that department and then supervisor of all ambassador animals and show development.
Currently, Andrea Junkunc is a Park Services Specialist at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in the Wildlife Care Department. She works closely with all the park’s animals, coordinates training plans, and animal enrichment programs.
The Bald Eagle and its History
On June 20, 1782, the Bald eagle was declared the national symbol of the United States of America because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks, and because it was then believed to exist only on this continent. Maude M. Grant explained the choice of the Bald eagle for the national symbol as follows: “It is said the eagle was used as a national emblem because, at one of the first battles of the Revolution (which occurred early in the morning) the noise of the struggle awoke the sleeping eagles on the heights and they flew from their nest and circled about over the heads of the fighting men, all the while giving vent to their raucous cries. ‘They are shrieking for freedom,’ said the patriots.
Thus, the Bald eagle, full of the boundless spirit of freedom, living above the valleys, strong and powerful in his might, has become the national emblem of a country that offers freedom in word and thought and an opportunity for a full and free expansion into the boundless space of the future.” Benjamin Franklin, however, did not agree with the choice, preferring the turkey who he claimed was “a much more respectable bird.”
The Bald eagle, with its snowy-feathered (not bald) head and white tail, is now the proud national symbol of the United States. And yet this wasn’t always the case. In the 1700s Bald eagle numbers in the United States were estimated to be between 300,000 to 500,000. Over the course of decades this majestic bird was nearly wiped out by sport hunting and for “protection” of fishing grounds. This resulted in numbers as low as 500 nesting pairs remaining in the lower 48 states.
In the 1940s and 1950s, pesticides like DDT also wreaked havoc on eagles and other birds. These chemicals collected in fish, which make up most of the eagle’s diet. The chemicals weakened the bird’s eggshells and limited their ability to reproduce. Thanks to the work of conservationist Rachel Carson, the legislature was convinced to ban the use of DDT and other harmful chemicals in 1972. In 1976 the Bald eagle was placed on the Federal Endangered Species List. Eagle numbers have since rebounded significantly and current populations are estimated at about 70,000. As a result of these restrictions, along with reintroduction programs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has upgraded the birds from endangered to threatened status.
The Bald eagle prefers to live and nest near bodies of water to provide sufficient food for their growing chicks. The birds mate for life and return to the same spot every year, building enormous nests of interwoven sticks. While the Bald eagle’s diet consists primarily of fish, carrion, smaller birds and rodents, they are occasionally known to prey on larger birds.
The Bald eagle is the only eagle unique to North America. Its distinctive brown body and white head and tail make it easy to identify. The eagle rarely flaps its wings when soaring with wings extended and almost flat. The hooked bill, legs and feet are yellow. Their call is a high-pitched squeaking sound. Immature bald eagles are dark without the distinctive white markings which are not present until they are about five years old.
In other news at the Wildlife Park, Cape Leisure Corporation will be holding the second session of its Camp Wildlife the week of July 16 through 20. This group of 11 and 12-year olds will be learning about Florida’s wildlife and enjoying hands-on activities and learning experiences. Camp topics include special animal experiences, animal meal preparation, tours of the wildlife hospital and manatee rehabilitation facility. Indoor and outdoor activities for children include nature hunts, visiting the wildlife areas in the park and other scientific activities. For more information and to register for Camp Wildlife, please call Marie Thompson at (352) 765-3366.
As you can see, we have a lot planned for July, and we encourage you to visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to learn about the Bald eagle and the importance of preserving Florida’s wildlife. For more information on our events, please call Susan Strawbridge or Olivia Morrison at (352) 628-5445.