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Bald eagle count soars in Illinois

March 11, 2008 at 01:26 PM
Click here to see pictures of a huge group of mature bald eagles concentrating around Iowa's Lake Red Rock.

If the Midwinter Bald Eagle surveyors were disappointed with the low number of bald eagles they saw during the 2007 survey, they were ecstatic with this year’s results. The 2008 count was 4,292 bald eagles, 2,372 more than were counted last year.

Ground surveys were conducted January 2-16 with target dates of January 11 and 12 within the Illinois and Mississippi River watersheds. The Illinois River basin produced 171 and the Mississippi River basin yielded 3,793. Other areas surveyed, including the Ohio River, Crab Orchard, Carlyle and Horseshoe Lakes contained 328.

The bald eagle survey categorizes eagles as adults, immature, and of undetermined age. This year 2,434 adults, 1,711 immature eagles, and 147 of undetermined age were counted. Of the total number, 40 percent were immature birds, indicating progress in the recovery of the bald eagle.

Each year surveyors leave their warm homes or offices to brave the cold and snow to count bald eagles along standard survey routes and survey routes of 2 to 120 miles in length. Although official assessments of bald eagle recovery are based on summer nesting populations, the midwinter count gives an idea of the trend in numbers. Since the number of birds in Illinois depends on local weather conditions at the time of the count, nationwide numbers rather than those of just one state are compared from year to year. This year’s temperatures were milder than last year with less ice on the rivers.

“That is a new record,” Randy Nyboer of the Illinois Natural History Survey during a meeting last month near Kankakee. “I don’t think that we’ve ever reached 4,000 before,” said Glen Kruse, natural heritage division chief for the Illinois DNR. “And the neat thing is that 40 percent of them are immature,” said Nyboer.

“These last several years, I get an e-mail or phone call almost every day from somewhere in the state reporting a bald eagle sighting,” noted Kruse. “Random, individual sightings we don’t report anymore. We did 20 years ago because it was so rare.”

Nyboer reported seeing three eagle nests he had never before seen. Kruse noted DNR is investigating the destruction of a nest in central Illinois as a criminal matter.

Illinois Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey is coordinated by the Illinois Audubon Society. The United States Army Corps of Engineers coordinates the national survey.  Illinois surveyors include employees of state and federal wildlife agencies, college instructors, students, members of the Illinois Audubon Society, and other interested individuals. 

The mission of the Illinois Audubon Society is to promote the perpetuation and appreciation of native plants and animals and the habitats that support them.  Independent from National Audubon, the Illinois Audubon Society is a privately supported, not-for-profit, statewide organization. It was founded in 1897 and is Illinois’ oldest private conservation organization with over 2,300 members, 19 chapters and 13 affiliate groups. IAS currently owns and manages 12 wildlife sanctuaries and has saved over 2,600 acres which are now being protected and managed for habitat and biodiversity throughout Illinois.

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I see you don’t count individual eagles but, here goes anyway. I was honored to see my first bald eagle in the wild on April 19th 2008 in Plano Illinois. In the back of my house there is a swamp in a 400 acre field with tall grass.  The eagle had stopped to take a break in the tall, tan grass, after carrying its prey for an unknown time.  It took off after a few minutes in the direction of Silver Springs State Park after picking up the squirrel again, struggling in the beginning, but gaining momentum soon. What an awesome and exciting surprise for me and my husband!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/01 at 10:25 AM

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