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What I've Learned, | May 09, 2018

C43, bald eagle

Indiana’s veteran raptor shares her survival tips.

C43 roosting on Lake Monroe in 2016. Courtesy of Clare Bozell.

This summer, C43, who lives near Lake Monroe, will turn 30, confirming her status as the oldest bald eagle in Indiana. She was released here in 1988 as part of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ reintroduction program, and she is one of only two original eagles still living. DNR wildlife specialist Rex Watters, who was with the program since its beginning, and non-game bird biologist Allisyn Gillet agreed to channel their inner eagles to help us share advice C43 might have for surviving in the wild.

Building a family is important.

After 25 busy years of reproduction, I have had 30 to 50 chicks, and most of them have started their own families within 60 miles of here. Losing my belly feathers every year to create a brood patch for incubating eggs has gotten pretty tiresome, but I’m doing my part to help restore Indiana’s bald eagle population.

You don’t need to stray far from home.

The area around Lake Monroe was my home when I learned to fly, so I came back here to raise my own eaglets. The largest lake in the state of Indiana has everything I could need: shallow water for fishing, plentiful food sources and good nesting trees close to the water. Ice cover in the winter means I have to travel to find open water for food, but I can easily find my way back by navigating along rivers.

Fish are the ideal meal, but anything goes.

I’ve taken muskrats off the water and squirrels off the trees, but my favorite thing is fish — carp and catfish are my usual dinners. The lake is my personal freezer, releasing all the dead fish from the winter when it defrosts in the spring. But when food gets scarce, I’ll try to eat anything that looks edible, including roadkill.

It takes more than luck to live this long.

I’m a survivor. I breed every year, raise my chicks and keep predators like coyotes away, all while maintaining my health. My lifelong mate has helped feed me and the chicks during nesting seasons and keep us safe.You can pick me out by the silver bands on both my legs and a small piece of orange plastic on my left wing, but please give me space if you see me in my nest. Our brood is delicate through the fledging process, and I can get very protective of my territory.

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