Eagle Creek Park, which is owned and managed by the City of Indianapolis, is located in the northwestern corner of Marion County. Encompassed within the property?s boundaries are approximately 5,300 acres, making the Eagle Creek the largest park in central Indiana and one of the largest municipally-owned parks in the United States.
The park?s acreage includes 3,900 acres of various upland and wetland habitats and 1,400 acres of open water, mostly comprised of the Eagle Creek Reservoir. The reservoir, which is orientated in a nearly perfect north-south direction, bifurcates Eagle Creek Park into two distinct portions.
A mosaic of habitats is found on both sides of the property. These habitats include deciduous forest, coniferous woodlots, early successional areas, scrub-shrub, restored prairie, riparian woods, and emergent wetlands. Of these, second growth deciduous woodlands are the most prevalent habitat type.
Most of the anthropogenic developments associated with municipal parks are restricted to the eastern segment of the property. But despite such demands for recreational infrastructure, the confines of Eagle Creek Park include several preserves protected by conservation easements and natural areas undergoing critical habitat restoration. For instance, two state-designated nature preserves exist within the park?s boundaries ? Eagle?s Crest Nature Preserve (240 acres) and Spring Pond Nature Preserve (43 acres). Additionally, the western portion of the park includes the Scott Starling Sanctuary (approximately 60 acres), which is the site of several important ecological restoration projects.
Eagle Creek Park is often regarded by central Indiana birdwatchers and naturalists alike as a critical locale in central Indiana for breeding, migrant, and over-wintering bird populations. The property undoubtedly supports a diversity of avian taxa throughout the year that is unparalleled in other locations in Marion County and central Indiana, thanks to the park?s large size, diversity of habitats, and the existence of a large body of water.
For instance, few properties in the greater Indianapolis area can rival Eagle Creek Park?s populations of neotropical passerines during northbound and southbound migrations, while the reservoir simultaneously can host flocks of resting waterfowl and waterbirds. In years of below average rainfall, mudflats are often exposed in the northern section of the reservoir during late summer and early autumn, creating suitable habitat for migrant shorebirds.
Populations of breeding birds at Eagle Creek have been recently studied by the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society (AWBAS) and Indy Parks. Many WatchList birds were found on the property during the nesting season, including such species as Willow Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Kentucky Warbler.
Several species listed as ?endangered? or of ?special concern? also breed within the confines of the park ? Red-shouldered Hawk, Black-and-white Warbler, and Hooded Warbler were all detected during the extensive breeding bird surveys. The latter two species are especially rare nesters for central Indiana. A full report of the breeding bird survey can be found at www.amosbutleraudubon.org.
Natural events and recreational interests both serve as the fundamental threats to the bird populations at Eagle Creek Park. As with many properties isolated from larger natural landscapes, cowbird parasitism and mammalian nest depredation likely cause widespread problems with population recruitment for many of the neotropical species nesting within the park. Proliferation of non-native invasive plants also threatens vegetative structural and plant species diversity. With invasive species such as bush honeysuckle and Russian olive becoming more abundant, the resultant monocultural habitats will not support sufficient breeding bird diversity.
Since it is owned and managed by a municipal parks system, Eagle Creek Park is always under pressure to increase the amount of available active recreational opportunities. In recent years, proposals have been made to expand the trail systems and include access for mountain biking along the western segment of the property, an area which encompasses the most critical breeding bird habitat at Eagle Creek Park. These changes would undoubtedly degrade and diminish available habitat for many species of WatchList birds, including Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, and Kentucky Warbler.