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Aerial observers count 186 bald eagles in the lower Wisconsin river valley

January 20, 2012 at 12:30 AM

Wisconsin DNR

Weekly News Article Published: January 17, 2012 by the Central Office

BOSCOBEL, Wis. – An annual mid-winter aerial survey of bald eagles along the Lower Wisconsin River corridor found 186 eagles between the Petenwell dam between Adams and Juneau counties and the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers in Crawford County, a distance of 180 miles. The survey was conducted by Department of Natural Resources biologists.

Agency biologists observed 128 adults and 58 immature eagles on Jan. 4, 2012. The DNR has conducted the survey each year since 1992. Once listed as an endangered species, the bald eagle has recovered and has been removed from both federal and state endangered species lists. A special feature page on the DNR website celebrates the bald eagle’s recovery in Wisconsin, and lists events and places where people can see the birds this winter.

“The number of eagles on the river during our survey can fluctuate greatly from year to year,” said Dan Goltz, DNR wildlife biologist based at Boscobel. “They just don’t all show up on the river at the same time each year. The number we counted this year is close to the 20-year average of 196.”

There was a record 614 eagles observed in the 2004 survey and over 450 were counted in 2007 and 2011. Many years there are fewer than 100, with a low of 11 eagles counted in 1997 according to survey records.

“The greatest concentration of eagles along the entire survey route was observed between Spring Green and Lone Rock, where we counted 30 eagles,” said Goltz. “With the mild temperatures and so much open water this year, the eagles were distributed fairly evenly wherever there was open water. High concentrations were also seen near Muscoda and below the dam at Petenwell.

“In addition to the high number of eagles along the Lower Wisconsin River, we have also seen many eagles along the smaller tributaries as well as eagles scavenging carcasses in open farm country.”

Goltz observed several eagles at established nests along the Wisconsin River “which indicates some birds are already maintaining their nests and preparing for the upcoming breeding season. There has been a steady increase in the number of active eagle nests and overall productivity along the Lower Wisconsin River in recent years.”

Gathering eagle population information includes documenting eagle deaths in the river valley and the public can help.

DNR wildlife biologists offer the following guidelines as to what the public can do if they find a sick or dead eagle:

  Don’t attempt to catch a sick bald eagle. Their talons are extremely sharp. If the eagle is dead, use gloves or a shovel to pick-up the bird, and place it in a heavy garbage bag.
  Call your local DNR conservation warden or wildlife biologist. Federal law prohibits the possession of live or sick bald eagles. They must be turned over to authorities within 48 hours.
  Inform authorities of when and where you found the bird, and if found alive, any signs of injury or illness.

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