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Bald eagle families continue nesting comeback in Missouri

By Bill Graham, Missouri Dept. of Conservation

Kansas City, Mo. – Missouri’s contribution to the recovery of bald eagle populations in the United States continues this summer, as eagle pairs finish raising young at nests. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and partners track nests. As of late May, 502 active eagle nests have been spotted and reported statewide, said Janet Haslerig, MDC resource scientist.

Summer’s nesting eagles are not as prominently visible as they are in winter. Migrating eagles move south ahead of icy winter conditions and they fly north again in spring. They are often congregated in groups near lakes or rivers where fish or waterfowl, favored foods, are available.

Bald eagles are in the late stages of their spring and summer nesting season in Missouri. This nest is active at Smithville Lake north of Kansas City. A mature eagle with white head feathers watches over the immature eagles still with brown and black feathering.

But some eagles make Missouri a year-round home or a nesting spot. Most eagle pairs pick nest sites near or within flying range of rivers or lakes that provide a continuous source of fish for themselves and their young. Eagles also feed on carrion and other wildlife. Mature eagles are recognizable with their large size and white feathering on their heads and tails. Immature eagles are almost as large, but feathers are brownish black throughout the body. It takes four to five years for eagles to reach maturity and gain the white head and tail.

In the Kansas City and St. Joseph areas, the 2020 eagle nest tally as of May by county includes Jackson, 8; Platte, 7; Clay, 4; Buchanan; 4, Cass; 3, and Lafayette, 3. Many of those nests are near rivers and lakes, especially along the Missouri River. But eagles also nest away from water.

Eagle nests can be enormous circular structures of sticks and twigs. Often, the older the nest, the larger it is, with more sticks added annually. So, the trees where they nest are large and usually offer them a wide field of vision for their surroundings. Adults and fledgling eagles can often be spotted sitting on nest sides or on nearby limbs. Sometimes only an eagle’s white head is visible above the nest sides.

Bald eagles were removed from the nation’s threatened and endangered species list in 2007. Their recovery from pesticides and habitat loss is a remarkable American conservation success story. But eagles are still a species of conservation concern in Missouri. They’re also a valued participant in the ecosystem. Their feeding on carrion helps cleanse wild places.

People boating on large lakes or rivers can watch for eagle nests. But eagles remain a protected species and nests should not be disturbed. Eagles have rebounded their populations thanks to Missouri citizens support for conservation. Seeing one flying in the wild, or tending a nest, is an exciting symbol of nature’s beauty and power.

For more information on bald eagles in Missouri, visit

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