A lone bald eagle, the symbol of the nation’s strength and freedom, has been keeping a bird’s-eye-view at Liberty Park for some time. The regal visitor is becoming a local legend in its own right, often perching high in the trees looking for prey.
Liberty Park Maintenance Superintendent David Moore and Landscaping Supervisor Cindy Kretzer said they believe the eagle has been coming to the park for about two years. Most locals agree it arrives around 8 a.m. and departs by 9:30 a.m., often flying north to northeast.
The bird of prey, who hasn’t been named yet, usually keeps an eagle-eye out for fish in the park’s lagoon and perches on a sycamore tree, located on the park’s island.
Kretzer said the last time she saw the eagle was Feb. 1 when they opened up the lagoon for trout fishing. Although Kretzer hasn’t seen the eagle, it did make a few visits to the park last week and was perched on the island sycamore at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Don Fiedler, of La Monte, often comes to the park to photograph the bird. He told the Democrat on Saturday the eagle has three favorite trees: the island sycamore, a smaller tree at the southeast side of the lagoon and a larger sycamore near West Third Street.
On the afternoon of Jan. 26, Fiedler watched the bird catch a large catfish from the lagoon. He was also able to grab a few photos of the eagle eating the fish around 2:15 p.m that day.
“I saw him go down and catch it but I didn’t get a picture of him taking it,” Fiedler said. “He flew to a big tree over there and was sitting on the bottom limb and he couldn’t pull it up. From what I could tell it looked like the fish was about 18-inches long.”
The eagle eventually flew to another tree on the northwest side of the lagoon, but dropped the large fish on the ground.
“That same day he was over there on the ground and he jumped up on the metal railing,” Fiedler added. “I was really surprised when I saw him land on the ground, but that was before he caught his fish.”
Seeing a bald eagle at Liberty Park was unprecedented for Fiedler.
“I never thought I ever would,” he noted.
He added, since Feb. 1, when those fishing were allowed to keep the trout they catch, the park has been busier and the eagle hasn’t been around as often.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, an the eagle is one of the largest birds of prey in the world with a wing span of six and half to eight-feet wide. They are not difficult to miss. Moore said he remembered the shadow its wings cast as it flew over his truck one day.
“One day I was driving up Third (Street) and a shadow came into the back of my truck and came out onto the hood,” Moore said. “He was flying straight up Third Street carrying a trout.”
“He was over there last summer when I was watering the roses on the island,” Kretzer added. “There were some people over there fishing and I saw him, so I pointed him out. They got excited about it.”
They think the eagle mostly preys on the fish, but Kretzer said she’s found squirrel remains on the island before.
“He’s probably gotten some squirrels too, because I’ve seen some squirrel carcasses around,” she added.
“I can’t actually say I’ve seen him with a squirrel, but we have had some tails and carcasses.”
Missouri Department of Conservation Biologist Steve Cooper, in Sedalia, said he was unaware there was a bald eagle at Liberty Park.
“I didn’t have a clue,” he said Tuesday.
Cooper said the eagle may be frequenting Liberty Park for several reasons — because he’s young, because there’s food and because it’s accessible.
“There’s people out there, but it’s not full-time, all the time,” he added. “They’re a wild animal, but they tolerate humans pretty much.”
Over the years the eagle population in Missouri has grown.
“We’ve gotten so many eagles, and there’s only so much space out there for them,” he added. “So, he’s found his own place to go fishing.”
Cooper added that he thought the bird was young, possibly 3 years old.
“He’s like a semi-adult at this point,” he added. “He’s probably been pushed off from somewhere else. Maybe he was hatched around here somewhere and the parents have pushed him away and he’s just found his own place to come and find fish.”
According to information provided by the Conservation Department, Missouri is one of the top bald eagle states. To sight a bald eagle in the state was once rare, but their numbers have increased due to conservation efforts. Banning the pesticide DDT and prohibiting the shooting of bald eagles have contributed to the rise in their numbers.
A 2011 bald eagle report by the Conservation Department said there were approximately 166 nesting pairs in the state. Every five years the nesting pairs are counted by the department. They will be counted again this year.
“It’s remarkable at how quickly they have come back,” Cooper said.
Both Kretzer and Moore think having a resident bald eagle at Liberty Park is a rare and special treat for Sedalians.
“Wow, it’s pretty great,” Kretzer said.
“It’s pretty neat,” Moore added. “Somebody was telling me that there’s an eagle nest around Georgetown and I’m thinking that’s where he’s coming from.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it, because every time I’ve seen him leave, that’s the direction he heads,” Kretzer said.
So far Moore and Kretzer said they don’t think anyone has given the eagle a name yet, but they do welcome suggestions.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.