Where eagles fall to earth

The Volusia County landfill, south of Daytona Beach on Tomoka Farms Road, is a great place to observe our national bird, the bald eagle. ;;The majestic birds are drawn in uncommon numbers to the steady supply of animal carcasses left there to rot. And members of the Florida Audubon Society's Eagle Watch program are drawn there for clues about the birds' nests.;;"Other than Alaska, that' s the only place in the world you can see that many eagles in one place," says Sandra Bogan of the Audubon Society.;;About a year ago, observers at the site noticed that five eagles apparently were dead. Closer inspection determined the birds had overdosed on barbituates ingested while preying on the bodies of euthanized animals. Eventually the finger was pointed at The Humane Society of Flagler County, which for years had paid a hauler to properly dispose of the dead animal bodies.;;"If the bodies had been buried, everything would have been all right. But they just dumped them with the household garbage," says Amy Wade, manager of the Flagler facility.;;State law requires animals to be euthanized with injections of barbituates. While larger Humane Societies incinerate the lifeless bodies of unwanted pets and stray animals, Flagler couldn't afford such an expense and chose the landfill option, Wade says.;;"A lot of veterinarians dispose of the bodies that way, too," Wade says. "I think we took the fall for what others had been doing all along." ;;Since then, Flagler has contracted with a pet cemetery in Zellwood to handle the animal disposals.;;The incident was recounted in a press release announcing the Audubon Society's record-breaking raptor rescue rate. In 1997, Audubon' s Birds of Prey Center in Maitland admitted 649 birds -- 227 from Orange County -- for a total of 100 more than in 1996.;;Among those recovered were 49 eagles, including the five from Volusia County. In fact, those were the only eagles rescued in Volusia, while nine eagles were rescued in Orange County.;;Audubon used the recoveries to promote Operation Wingspan, a current fund-raising campaign aimed at tripling the center's size. "We believe that loss of habitat and nesting sites will continue this trend," says center director Resee Collins.