The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois
Article written my Mr Chris Young

The first bald eagle successfully hatched in Sangamon County in recorded history flew off the nest last week, just as its species was on the brink of flying off the endangered-species list.

Helicopter pilot Steve Young, Illinois Department of Transportation bureau chief of air operations, saw an immature bald eagle fly off its nest along the Sangamon River near the Illinois 29 bridge just north of Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

Young flew the helicopter that videotaped the young eagle in its nest last spring, the first documented active bald eagle nest in Sangamon County.

He contacted John Wilker, Illinois Department of Natural Resources natural areas program manager, to report seeing the fledgling eagle last week during another flight.

“The one we saw in the nest obviously has fledged out and is out of the nest and flying around,” Young said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide by Friday whether to remove the eagle from the list permanently.

The eagle population was reduced to only 417 pairs in the lower 48 states in the early 1960s. Today, there are about 10,000 pairs, including more than 100 pairs in Illinois. Only two pairs were known to nest in the state in the early 1980s.

Eagles still will have strong protection if they are taken out from under the umbrella of the Endangered Species Act.

For one thing, eagles already have their own law. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act “prohibits, except under certain specified conditions, the taking, possession and commerce of such birds.”

The eagle was upgraded from endangered to threatened in 1995. Removal from the list altogether has been a slow process as language used in laws to protect eagles needed to be clearly defined.

And the Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to develop management guidelines for landowners to help them avoid disturbing nesting eagles.

H. David Bohlen, assistant curator of zoology at the Illinois State Museum, observed the Sangamon County chick in its nest earlier in the spring, but had been unable to observe it after leaves on the tree obscured the view in May.

“It’s impossible to see it from the bridge now (next to Illinois 29), so that’s nice to know,” he said of Young’s report of seeing the eagle fledge. “I’ll have to go out to see if I can see it flying around.

“I’m glad (the helicopter pilot) saw it,” he said. “I was getting worried.”

The young eagle still faces long odds for survival to adulthood. Bald eagles don’t achieve their signature white head and tail feathers until they are about 5 years old.

Only about one in 10 eagles hatched survive to maturity.

But for now, the first bald eagle born in Sangamon County appears to be thriving.

“When we went by, it hopped out of the nest,” said pilot Young. “It’s in good shape.”