January 23, 2013 —
Around the 10th of January, a number of people throughout the country brave the cold and go out in the field to count eagles. The counting can be done from a fixed location, or by traveling a route by car, aircraft, or even by boat in ice-free areas. The counts are collected by state or federal agencies and the results are compared with previous years.
The middle of winter is when many Canadian migrant eagles come to winter in our region in order to feed on fish from the ice-free flowing waters of our rivers. During the earlier counts, most of the eagles counted were migrants; there were very few resident breeding eagles in this region.
Thanks to folks like Pete Nye, who worked to re-introduce bald eagles into New York State in the late 1970s, there are once again many breeding pairs in the region and throughout the state. Other states followed up with their own re-introduction programs and have likewise had success. New York’s numbers for breeding territories was just a couple of nests in 1980 but increased to 192 in 2010.
The re-introduction effort as well as other improvements to eagle habitat, contaminant control, etc., has shown to be beneficial to eagles, as reflected by the trend of the mid-winter survey counts. New York statewide totals increased from just 29 in 1980 to 393 eagles in 2010; a significant increase with more of the eagles counted being resident breeders and resident offspring.
So what of the 2013 survey? Compilation of data is still going on, so it is too early to get figures. The day I participated was mild for January and sunny. The lower portion of the upper Delaware was ice free (an increasing trend over the last several years for the mid-winter survey). I saw five eagles on my designated route, which is about normal. In the 1970s to early 1980s, it was extremely rare to see an eagle along the river; now, it is extremely rare not to see an eagle along the river.