Eagle Day draws more than 700 people

Justice, a disabled eagle who makes her home at Milford Nature Center, served as part of a display during Eagle Day presentations.

Eagles will take flight Jan. 25 at the Milford Nature Center from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. when Eagle Day takes place.

Bus tours will take people out around Milford Lake, where they will have the chance to view bald eagles in the wild. The first bus tour of the day leaves at 9 a.m. at the last leaves at 2 p.m., with tours taking place every half hour.

In addition to the bus tours, there will also be programs offered for free inside the nature center.

At 9:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1:45 p.m., a program on raptors will be offered. At 10 a.m., 12:15 p.m., and 2:30 p.m., a program will take place on owls. At 10:45 a.m. and 1 p.m., there will be a program on nesting eagles in Kansas. At 3:15 p.m., a program will be offered on birds of prey. In the Starbird Classroom at 10 a.m., 12:15 p.m., and 2:30 p.m., there will be a program featuring live eagles.

Miss Kansas Annika Wooton is scheduled to be present during the event and to paint a picture as part of the program.

As usual, complimentary hot chocolate and popcorn are expected to be provided to attendees.

Eagle Day is entirely free of charge and vehicles will be allowed to enter Milford State Park to view the eagles for free.

Assistant Director of the Milford Nature Center Vanessa Avara said Eagle Day is an educational opportunity for the nature center.

“We want people to enjoy and appreciate the things we have here in Kansas,” she said. “It’s really a beautiful state.”

According to Avara, Eagle Day attendees should hope for some cold weather the day of the event because the cold causes eagles to concentrate together in areas around the lake. In fair weather, they tend to scatter all across the lake, she said.

If it’s cold, people can expect to see more eagles near the spillway and if there’s ice on the lake, the birds will likely be perched on it.

The event is more than just a fun tradition for the nature center. It teaches attendees proper skills for spotting and watching eagles. It also allows the nature center to showcase the increase in the bald eagle population in the state over the past decade or so, which Avara said is “a huge success story” and due to conservation efforts.

According to Avara, bald eagles are a frequent flier at the nature center, which — among many other things — serves as a rehabilitation service for injured birds.

“We see them more often by far than we did 10 years ago,” she said.

The nature center assists eagles that have been struck by vehicles, that have had close encounters with power lines, and that are suffering from lead poisoning.

“A lot of people don’t understand the human impact that these birds have to face,” Avara said.

The lead poisoning issue is a big one and one that she’ll speak about when she does the live eagle presentation during Eagle Day.

Eagles often come in sick from eating the caresses of animals shot by hunters using lead ammunition and from eating fish which were caught using lead fishing gear and then released.

Any part of an animal shot with lead ammunition can be tainted by the toxic metal, including — just by way of example — gut piles left by deer hunters after field dressing their catch.

“It doesn’t take very much at all,” Avara said. “Two little, tiny bb-sized pieces of lead will significantly impact an eagle. It doesn’t take much.”

Lead poisoning can ground a bald eagle, causing it to have seizures, damaging its coordination and its vision, and keep it from being able to hunt prey, which can cause it to starve to death.

Eagle Day is an education piece in many ways and one thing Avara hopes to communicate is a request for hunters not to use lead ammunition.

“The choices that we make can impact a lot of the wildlife that we’re trying to protect and take care of,” she said. “There’s not any hunter out there that goes out with the intent of poisoning an eagle by leaving a gut pile. I know that. But they probably aren’t aware of the danger.”

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