Bald eagles nest at HAAP; at least one eaglet hatched this spring

Rain Smith • Apr 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT - Since World War II, Holston Army Ammunition Plant has provided explosives to U.S. armed forces around the globe.

And so it is fitting that the quintessential symbol of American freedom, the bald eagle, has taken up permanent residence at the facility.

Plant personnel have been spotting the birds off and on since 1996. But it wasn't until 2005 that mature eagles hatched two eaglets on the property, and began making the area their home nine months out of the year.

One eaglet was hatched each of the following years, although the 2006 baby was lost in a windstorm that destroyed its nest.

Plant personnel confirmed on Wednesday that at least one eagle has hatched this spring. According to HAAP Natural Resources Manager Bruce Cole, it probably occurred around mid-March.

And for the first time since the initial nesting in 2005, maybe, jut maybe, a second eaglet is in the nest, as well.

"The nest is so large and the babies are so small, that until they get up moving around we just can't see them," Cole said.

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On Thursday, a little black head with white speckles could be seen peering over the top of the nest, which is about five feet wide. Mother and father stood watch from the tiptop of nearby trees, occasionally spreading their 6-foot wingspan to readjust their position or swoop to another perch.

"That's kind of unusual that they wouldn't have two after that first attempt (in 2005)," Cole said of eaglets hatched on the property. "We're not sure why that would be the case because I think the food supply here is definitely adequate to support a couple young eagles every year."

Of the eaglets that hatched in past years, Cole said they are likely still in our area. Reports of immature eagles come from both the river below the HAAP plant and Fort Patrick Henry Lake above it.

Eagles will make anywhere from 2 to 30 square miles as their territory.

"The eagles that hatched here would still be immature," Cole said. "Eagles typically don't get their white head an tail until their fourth or fifth year. So it's hard to know when we get those reports if those are young eagles that came her from (HAAP) or somewhere else."

Cole says the eagles have picked an excellent spot for this year's nest: A wooded area on a modest island in the middle of the Holston River. Public access to that section of the river is restricted, as is access to all of HAAP's 6,000 acres.

"We really have no need to be out there where they nest," Cole said. "There's lots of fish in the river, obviously, and lots of wildlife here in the plant. So the food supply in this area should be really good for them."

And to make things even more hospitable, HAAP has a management plan that restricts construction and activity within a quarter mile of the eagles' nest.

"We look at all our projects prior to starting new construction or anything like that, to take the eagle nesting into account and coordinate with the appropriate officials," Cole said.

The eagles have been observed during ordnance testing at HAAP, and according to Cole, they don't even flinch when explosives are detonated.

It's that type of fortitude, coupled with the efforts of federal wildlife officials and amateur enthusiasts, that led to bald eagles being removed from the Endangered Species Act's "endangered" list in 2007.

"It's probably one of the most successful stories as far as protection of the Endangered Species Act goes," Cole said. "It's one of the greatest recoveries of any species here in North America."

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