Mid-winter eagle survey

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 12/31/19

The first part of January is the time for the annual mid-winter bald eagle survey. The survey is coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Most …

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Mid-winter eagle survey

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The first part of January is the time for the annual mid-winter bald eagle survey. The survey is coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Most states in the U.S. participate in the survey, including NY and PA. This survey takes place during the first two weeks of January. Migrant eagles are in their usual wintering grounds from Canada by then and are counted by observers on foot, in automobiles, or by fixed and rotary winged aircraft.

In 1979, when the survey was first conducted, most of the eagles in this region that were counted were migrants. With successful eagle reintroduction efforts, many state wildlife agencies coupled breeding success with the 1970s ban on the manufacutre of DDT; more eagles (both resident and migrant) are seen with each successive year. Along with bald eagles, a few wintering golden eagles are occasionally seen and counted in the region.

The upward trend of eagles continues not only in NY and PA, but almost everywhere within the bald eagle’s distribution range. Long Island, NY, which did not have a breeding population of bald eagles in more than 70 years, now has several nesting territories. New Hampshire, which had no nesting territories, saw its first return of breeding bald eagles in 1988; last year, the state’s breeding bald eagle pairs produced more than 70 fledglings. 

Although our region contains thriving habitats, in 1976, only a single breeding pair established a nest within the 73-mile stretch along the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. Today, this same area contains more than 21 active bald eagle breeding territories. 

The eagles in the region enjoy an abundant food supply and a pristine habitat, however, there is concern over the loss of habitat due to development in many areas. Also, lead poisoning due to lead fishing tackle and hunters’ ammunition has caused an increase of eagles found grounded or dead in the wild. A brochure, published by the PA Game Commission, can be found here

Around January 10, as I go out to survey, I’ll remember that at one time, there were very few eagles to count—before that, it was rare to see even one. I’ll remember the frigid cold or the blazing hot days, trapping or tagging with NYSDEC, or the nights I drove around trying to locate roost areas via telemetry. For these reasons, and many more, I’ll never take the comeback of the bald eagle for granted.

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