Higher eagle counts mean great bird watching

Carole Curtis
Now Media Group


Bald eagles appear to be doing well in Wisconsin, with winter counts currently underway coming in higher than last year in many places.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 'Weekly News' update issued Jan. 12, that's a positive trend that translates to 'fantastic' eagle watching events this weekend in Sauk Prairie and Appleton.

It also helps the frigid weather is freezing lakes and rivers, which tends to concentrate bald eagles at open water spots below dams.

That's good news for Sauk Prairie's bald eagle watching days on January 15 and 16 along the Wisconsin River and for 'A Day With Eagles' along the Fox River on January 16 and 17th in Appleton.

Besides watching eagles in the outdoors at both events, there will be opportunities to see the majestic birds up close during live raptor shows and presentations about eagles, the report said, noting the DNR co-hosts the Sauk Prairie events and many DNR staff members are giving presentations at the Appleton event.

There will be more opportunities to watch eagles in the coming weeks with events in Cassville, Kaukauna, Prairie du Chien and Ferryville.

Eagle nest surveys conducted during the spring of 2015 showed a record number of breeding adults and nests, the DNR said. That means bald eagles continue their successful comeback since nearing extinction in Wisconsin and nationally in the 1960s.

The state's population of eagles dwindled to 100 pairs in the early 1970s, but rebounded after protection efforts, including the banning of DDT, to 1,337 known eagle nest territories occupied by breeding adults in 2012.

Every year, winter eagle counts are conducted by surveyors during late December and mid-January at areas that typically provide good winter eagle habitat. DNR pilots and biologists conduct some of the surveys by air, while others are done by DNR staff and volunteers on the ground and in cars and boats.

Although results for the 2016 winter eagle surveys are still coming in, the counts, thus far, look very promising.

In northeastern Wisconsin, aerial surveys along the Fox River in January 6 counted 90 bald eagles, over twice as many as the previous year's 40 eagles. The bulk of the eagles were at the mouth of the Fox River in Oshkosh.

According to the local wildlife biologist, the river had iced up last year by the time the survey had conducted.

Northern Wisconsin also reported an increase in the number of eagles observed over last year, with the sightings concentrated along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers along Highway 35.

West central Wisconsin reported 69 bald eagles along the Mississippi River between La Crosse and Dubuque, Iowa, compared to 21 last year and 30 in 2014. This winter, the warmer weather means more open pockets of water and, therefore, more areas for the eagles to find food on, wildlife biologists noted.

In addition, the eagle survey route encompassing the Red Cedar and Chippewa rivers found 29 eagles. That's a much higher number than last year, but typical of what is found during mild weather years, wildlife biologists said.

The eagle survey route encompassing the Red Cedar and Chippewa Rivers, tallied much higher numbers this year (29) than last year. It's due to the warm weather, wildlife biologists said, and is typical of numbers found during mild weather years.

In southern Wisconsin, an aerial survey flight on January 11 along the Wisconsin River counted 150 eagles, compared to fewer than 100 eagles seen in the previous two years when the river froze much earlier. The greatest concentration of eagles was the 40 birds observed between Ferry Bluff and Spring Green.

Volunteers from the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council conducting ground surveys in January reported the number of eagles roosting in the Sauk Prairie area was double the number counted in December.

Giving eagles a helping hand

Individuals and organizations interested in continuing the work to protect eagles and ensuring the annual surveys continue can help in several ways.

One is through the DNR's 'Adopt an Eagle Nest' program. For minimum contribution of $100, sponsors receive an adoption certificate, an aerial survey showing the location of the adopted eagle nest, results from the survey and a full-color eagle calendar.

Contributions to the program are used to conduct aerial surveys to locate nest sites, rescue and rehabilitate sick injured or orphaned eagles, work with landowners to protect and manage nest trees and winter roost sites, and promote awareness of bald eagles.

Another opportunity is by purchasing a new eagle license plate, which provides a $25 annual donation to the Endangered Resources Fund.

For more information, visit the DNR website.