MILLSTADT, Ill. -- Three fuzzy-haired chicks that hatched last month are believed to be the first bald eagles ever produced by artificial insemination.
The three were hatched in an incubator on a farm that serves as the headquarters for the Eagle Propagation Program directed by Bill Voelker.
Golden eagles were produced by artificial insemination at Cornell University in 1972 and Voelker has been hatching eagles and releasing them into the wild for nearly 10 years.
However, all of the eagles produced had been goldens, which are not a threatened species, until Voelker hatched three bald eagle eggs last month.
Voelker, who has 52 adult eagles as his breeding stock at the Millstadt farm. Eggs are moved to incubators for hatching.
Over the last three years, Voelker has introduced 24 young golden eagles into the wild in Western states. He also has released eight golden eagles in western North Carolina over the last two year in cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Forest Service.
Some of the birds were placed in the nests of wild eagles, and were adopted by the foster parents. Where no wild eagles are found, Voelker uses the 'hacking' technique in which a human handler teaches the birds to hunt.
Voelker also has introduced a method he calls 'foster hacking,' in which disabled eagles are placed in the wild with the newly hatched eagles in topless enclosures. The flightless birds are provided regularly with food and act as foster parents until the young birds learn to hunt.
'Foster hacking has turned out to be very successful,' Voelker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 'The young bird seems to 'imprint' better on the site because the adult is there.'
The St. Louis Audubon Society points out that Voelker's methods are needed in re-establishing threatened species in the wild because he does not rehabilitate injured birds -- as most other similar programs do -- but propagates the species with youngsters.