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Missouri trys to re-establish eagle nesting

SCHELL CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Department of Conservation says the groundwork is in place to re-establish the state's nesting bald eagle population for the first time in 40 years.

Missouri is host to one of the largest winter eagle populations in the lower 48 states, but the birds return to other areas to breed.

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'The nesting eagle population was virtually wiped out in Missouri in the late 1800s,' said Jim D. Wilson, a state ornithologist. 'The last nesting eagles disappeared in the 1940s, but there are indications now that they may be starting to recolonize. We've found two nests in the last two years.'

The department released seven eagles from Alaska this summer at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Missouri and eight more this fall at the Schell-Osage Wildlife Area in southwest Missouri.

Seven of the last group of eight birds were outfitted with radio transmitters and 4-inch yellow streamers attached to their legs to help monitor their movement.

Wilson said he hopes the eagles released from the Schell-Osage area will return to breed there.

Sheryl Tatom, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Conservation, ushered the 15 young eagles back into nature. Tatom is an 'eagle hacker' whose job is to feed and care for young eagles in a simulated natural environment.

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She kept the eagles in cages atop 40-foot high towers during the hacking period before they were set free. Biologists said young eagles will return instinctively to their nesting sites to raise their own young when they become mature.

'We tracked them for a short period of time,' said Jack Shatford, the wildlife district supervisor at Schell-Osage. 'But we lost track of all of them. We've had some scattered sightings on them but very few really.'

He said it will be years before researchers can judge the success of the program.

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