An Iconic Symbol Packs Visitor Center

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Did you know that when a committee of our founding fathers met to choose the emblem of the United States, Benjamin Franklin voted for a turkey instead of the bald eagle? This fact and other information about the history of  bald eagles in our country were presented every hour during Eagle Days at Harry S. Truman Visitor Center on February 9. Live Eagle Programs were held in the theater and featured appearances by two bald eagles and one golden eagle.  Representatives from the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield made the presentations and transported the ambassador eagles from their habitat at the zoo to the Visitor Center.
These ambassador eagles are flightless, rehabilitated eagles. A nine-pound male bald eagle named Truman participated in the live eagle program for the first time. He had been shot and after rehabilitation was grounded. A 14-pound female bald eagle named Phoenix sat on the wrist of her trainer while making a lot of loud noises and lifting her wings, much to the delight of the children in the audience. Although most eagles in the wild live about 25 years, she has been performing ambassadorial duties for 30 years. She was found near death as an eaglet by an agent with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), and rescued by the Dickerson Park Zoo. She started appearing in Eagle Days programs at the age of six months. The third eagle was an eight-pound golden eagle, that does not breed in Missouri like the bald eagle.  He had spotted a dead wolf, and when trying to approach the animal got his wing caught in a chain-link fence. He was found by MDC agents too, had three surgeries but was unable to use his wing to help him hunt anymore.
At the end of each program, attendees were invited to ask questions of the presenters. More children asked questions than adults. One young man had been to other presentations and was still excited by the experience.
“I liked it!” said Gabe Noland, son of Shannon Noland of Cosmic Café fame, who brought four children to the event. “I have seen it a good amount of times and I enjoyed it!”
Larry and Holly Conn, of Warsaw, attended, bringing one of Holly’s students along to enjoy the fun.
Eagle Days have been taking place at the Visitor Center since 2001. The program has been ongoing for 40 years in Missouri beginning with presentations at five statewide sites. Eagle Days 2019 was originally scheduled for January 12, but inclement weather made it necessary to change the date. The event was sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with assistance from the MDC. Park Ranger Erin Cordrey said about 500 visitors attended the event, mainly from the local area. She said that there are usually 600 to 700 visitors at Eagle Day, but cold weather and ice prevented many out-of-town visitors as well as presenters from attending. Connie Koch had to cancel her Snakes Alive presentation because of icy roads, and a wood carver who was scheduled also had to cancel his appearance. 
Visitors found many attractions at the Visitor Center in addition to the Live Eagle Program. There were 34 pieces in the Ike Parker watercolor collection on display; and acoustic renditions of Eagles hits (and other rock songs) were performed by “Late Arrival” at 11 AM and 1 PM on the upper deck of the Center. It was the first performance at Eagle Days for the band from Sedalia.
Master Naturalists from MDC offered a wide variety of conservation pamphlets, and they had an exhibit displaying edible treats made with insects. Master Naturalist, Paul Landkamer, known as the “bug man,” offered those who stopped by his table edible insects such as June Bugs, Japanese Beetles, Stink Bugs and Meal Worms. He even baked rice crispy treats with Meal Worms and Japanese Beetles. Visitors and other MDC personnel and guests were actually eating them.
The Department of Health and Senior Services had a booth of informative pamphlets, and there was also a children’s booth where they could make eagle puppets. 
Missouri is one of the leading lower 48 states for bald eagle viewing. Each fall thousands of these birds migrate south from their nesting range in Canada and the Great Lakes states to hunt at the big rivers and lakes in the Show-Me state. The best time to view eagles is from late December to early February. At the Live Eagle Program, the audience was informed that there are currently 460 active bald eagle nests in Missouri, which indirectly indicates that there are 920 adult eagles.  This is a great accomplishment since eagles steadily declined in the 20th century when some people shot them for fear they were a threat to livestock. According to, after World War II, the use of DDT to kill mosquitoes nearly caused them to become extinct. The poison in DDT caused eagle egg shells to be so thin they were crushed by the weight of the parents. Eagles were declared an endangered species in 1967 and DDT was banned in 1972. 
In Missouri, the last nesting of bald eagles took place in 1964.  Efforts were made to bring in nesting eagles from other states, and different programs were undertaken to save eaglets. One such program involved taking the third eagle egg to a laboratory for artificial incubation and then feeding after hatching. When healthy and old enough, it was tagged and set free. Eagles lay one egg at a time, about every five to seven days. When the first egg hatches after about 35 days of incubation, it is well fed and thrives. When the second egg hatches, the older brother or sister is larger and stronger and eats most of the food provided by the adult bald eagles.  By the time the third egg hatches the new eaglet hardly gets any food and often dies. The artificial incubation was set up to save these third eaglets.