BAKER — A national icon has graced this rural north county community.
Several residents, like Cindy Carroll, have been lining up to see a bald eagle in Baker. They recently stopped near Ritz Food Store on State Road 4 to watch and photograph the bird.
"(The eagle) seems to be a major attraction in the area these days," Carroll said. "It was a rather large bird and it looked quite healthy. It was pretty."
Motorists on Sunday pulled over to see the bird of prey, and excitement affected traffic flow, Tara Geiger, the store's assistant manager, said.
"One person actually called the (Okaloosa) Sheriff's Office about the traffic," she said.
Josh Copeland, who works at the store, said the bird has made several visits to his family's nearby property.
But that's not the only sighting, he said.
"I have always heard other people say that (bald eagles) have been seen near Karick Lake, near Blackmon," he said.
Seeing the eagle is becoming common — particularly since the bird was removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's threatened and endangered species list in 2007 — Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge director Amanda Wilkerson said.
The bald eagle's increasing numbers have been evident to staffers who have rehabilitated several of the birds the past two years, she said.
"If there are more being injured, than that means that there are more out there," she said.
Copeland said he thinks Baker's birds enjoy eating animal carcasses on the side of the road.
"There always seems to be a possum that don't make it across (Highway 4) ," he said.
DID YOU KNOW?
●The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed the bald eagle, the United States' national bird, from its threatened and endangered species list in 2007.
●Nearly 10,000 bald eagle nesting pairs exist in the country, compared to 400 nesting pairs in 1963, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
●Florida seems to be a hot spot for the species: The Sunshine State,Minnesota and Wisconsin sharethe country's largest concentrations of bald eagle nesting pairs
●President Barack Obama declared Dec. 6 that wind farm operators with permits may kill bald eagles, without penalty, for up to 30 years, if they take certain precautionsto avoid doing so, and report bird deaths
●Residents can report bald eagles causing problems to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, 650-1880, or the local Florida Fish and Wildlife office, 265-3676.