Eagles popular draw at north Alabama park

Bald Eagle

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. (AP) – Thelma Lou and Barney, bald eagles that lived in north Alabama, were together for a long time and had several children before Barney disappeared a couple of years ago.

“Nobody knows what happened to him,” said Randy McClendon of Guntersville, who’s watched the pair for 25 years. “He left and just never came back home; maybe (he was) killed or died somehow.”

The good news now is that Thelma Lou has found a new partner and the two awaiting the arrival of expected triplets.

Hundreds of people have been on site at their home across from the Guntersville Dam, anxiously hoping to be among the first to see the new “kids.” The couple is the main attraction during the annual Eagle Awareness at Lake Guntersville State Park in Marshall County.

Majestic bald eagles are regular visitors and an attraction to Lake Guntersville and the Tennessee Valley. They usually arrive in November and spend the winter months in and around the park, soaring the skies, fishing the reservoir and roosting in the tall pines along the mountain tops.

“This is the 29th year of LGSP celebrating the return of bald eagles to Alabama,” Park Naturalist Patti Donnellan said.

Donnellan said Alabama’s Nongame Wildlife Program of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources began in 1984 to attempt to restore the state’s nesting bald eagle population, which had drastically declined from 1950 to 1960. From 1985 through 1991, 91 young bald eagles were released in an effort to restore a nesting population of eagles within Alabama, she said.

That work has paid dividends – there now are more than 77 bald eagle nests statewide, with the total expected to rise.

Eagle Awareness Weekends, held each January and February, are an activity that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy. They also educate the public about the importance of protecting the national symbol, their habitat and natural environment. Park naturalists, field trip guides and guest speakers help make the experience memorable, and live birds can be seen every Saturday.

This year’s program will conclude Saturday with a series of presentations in the main ballroom at the park lodge. All are free.

There now are between 700 and 1,000 eagles now wintering in Alabama; the severe weather up north has helped increase the numbers.

Marshall County, where Guntersville is located, has more eagles – 18 nests – than any other county in Alabama.

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Information from: The Gadsden Times

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