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Eagle council pushes education for upcoming Bald Eagle Watching Days in Sauk Prairie area

January 3, 2019

Area bird enthusiasts will be flocking to the Sauk Prairie area Jan. 18-19 for the 31st Bald Eagle Watching Days. Events scattered around Sauk City and Prairie du Sac include eagle viewing opportunities, educational events, children’s programming and more.

According to Ferry Bluff Eagle Council president Gene Unger, regular programming such as David Stoke’s Laughing with the Animals, the Schlitz Audubon Nature Society’s Live Birds of Prey showcase will be back, however the crowd favorite eagle release will not happen at this year’s event.

“We work with several rehabbers for this and neither organization had eagles to release during the event,” Unger said. “Two eagles were released earlier and a few others are not yet ready to be released. When they are ready to go, they need to be released. We always want to make sure things are done right.”

Prairie du Sac resident Kurt Eakle lives across from the Wisconsin River and often can be found taking pictures of the bald eagles and other waterfowl.

“I moved here in 1996 and hadn’t really known about eagles here in the winter,” Eakle said. “One day I was driving over the Highway 12 bridge in Sauk City and a huge eagle flew right over my car and startled me.”

After that, Eakle started paying more attention to the raptors on the Wisconsin River. He helps out the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council by lending them some of the pictures he’s captured of the area eagles.

“It’s one of those happy accidents in life,” Eakle said.

On Jan. 18 an educational program is brought to Grand Avenue Elementary School at no cost to the school for students in grades three through five.

“The kids are really soaking it up at that age,” Unger said. “It’s a good time to start telling the kids about eagles and conservation efforts.”

Grade school children are not the only group the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council strives to educate. In addition to the general public, Unger said the council has made a concerted effort over the past few years to teach hunters about how using lead bullets during deer hunting season can lead to serious injury and death for eagles.

Bald eagles are scavengers that pick on the remains of dead animal carcasses for food. When an eagle eats a deer carcass, it ingests lead from the bullets used to hunt the animal. Hunters often gut an animal after shooting it, leaving the animal’s innards out in the open. This attracts scavenging birds, but lead paralyzes the eagle’s gut, leading to the raptor’s inability to digest food or drink.

Unger said the council has a sub-committee working to promote the use of non-toxic bullets while hunting.

“We are trying to get rid of lead bullets,” Unger said. “We have been working with Wilderness Fish and Game in Sauk City the past few years to promote copper bullets.”

Unger said the council has used its funds to offer coupons for a limited number of copper bullet boxes for hunters.

Unger said last year the group sold five boxes of copper bullets. This year it sold out of the 20 boxes of copper bullets they helped fund at Wilderness Fish and Game.

“That’s now 20 hunters in our area who are hopefully using copper bullets instead of lead,” Unger said. “We hope there is an acceptance coming.”

Wilderness Fish and Game manager Tyler Ruhland said working with the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council has been a good partnership.

“We provide the copper ammo at a discount and the council chips in a coupon,” Ruhland said. “The hunter receives instant cash back at the register.”

Ruhland said he is seeing more hunters try out the copper bullets, and said the only major difference with copper bullets is the cost.

“It is substantially more expensive to shoot with copper,” Ruhland said. “But performance-wise, there is not a difference in regards to deer hunting.”

Ruhland said because the bald eagle has such an important presence in the Sauk Prairie community, it is important to support conservation efforts as outdoorsmen.

“It’s our responsibility to do what we can for the habitat,” Ruhland said. “As hunters our main focus isn’t always about harvesting an animal. It’s also about doing what we can for the conservation of nature. Anything we can do as conservationists, the better.”

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