Happy Thirtieth Birthday, Bart
Maine’s most famous eagle is living the good life in Freedom.
Thirty years ago on December 7, a young bald eagle was shot near Rehrersburg, Pennsylvania. A band on the injured bird’s leg identified him as the nestling that had been banded six months earlier on Bartlett Island, near Mount Desert Island. Unable to fly because of the permanent injury to his wingtip, the bird was placed in the care of the group that had banded him, the Maine Bald Eagle Project, which launched him on an unlikely career as the Maine’s most famous bald eagle.
Bart, we’re pleased to report, is alive, well, and living the pampered life of a retired celebrity at Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation facility in the rural central Maine town of Freedom. There, he has his own condo, feasts on raw muskrat and trout, and serves as a role model for sick and injured eagles undergoing therapy.
Little do those ailing birds know that they may well owe their existence to Bart. In 1982, when he was born, there were only about seventy pairs of nesting bald eagles in Maine, and illegal shooting was the birds’ leading cause of death. Wildlife biologists, including those with Professor Ray Owen’s Maine Bald Eagle Project at University of Maine, were working to boost the population. Bart became the project’s ambassador, visiting hundreds of classrooms and making appearances at ceremonies. In 1989, he presided over the signing of the bill that established the anti-poaching program, Operation Game Thief. “Bart played a major role in educating young people who were going to grow up to become hunters not to shoot eagles,” says Diane Winn, co-director with Marc Payne of Avian Haven. (Winn’s slide show detailing Bart’s full story can be viewed at avianhaven.org). There are now more than four hundred nesting bald eagle pairs in Maine, and the birds were removed from the state list of threatened species in 2009.
Though he is retired, Bart remains very much the showman, putting on a display whenever his caretakers visit. “He hams it up a little,” Payne says. “He starts squawking and he does a little dance.” Age thirty is about the oldest that wild bald eagles get, but Bart is in exceptionally good health. Says Winn, “We hope to have him around for another ten years.” —V.M.W.
Photographed by Glori Berry