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Illinois hunting and fishing

A bald eagle scans the shoreline at the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge near Havana on Saturday. Volunteers travel the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers each winter counting eagles as part of an annual survey. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

Eagle numbers down statewide

February 20, 2010 at 09:38 AM

Illinois hunting and fishing

Eagle survey

2010— 995

Source: Illinois Audubon Society

The Springfield area has experienced an influx of bald eagles, even as state surveys conducted last month show the number of eagles in Illinois down by three-fourths.

H. David Bohlen, assistant curator of zoology at the Illinois State Museum, said that last Sunday evening, he saw 27 bald eagles airborne at once over the Illinois Department of Transportation pond and flooded timber on the east side of Interstate 55.

Bohlen’s highest previous count for a single day in Sangamon County was no more than eight or nine.

Statewide, the picture’s not so bright.

The Illinois Audubon Society coordinates annual mid-winter bald eagle surveys of the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash river watersheds, along with sites like Horseshoe and Carlyle lakes. Volunteers reported a total of 995 eagles counted last month, well below 2,986 in 2009 and the high of 4,384 seen in 2008.

Fewer eagles than usual also have been present at eagle-watching events on the Illinois River — possibly due to the river being free of ice.

When rivers are open, eagles do not have to congregate around dams where rushing water keeps a portion of the river open and stunned fish are easy pickings.

Also the gizzard shad population in the Illinois River is low this year, and fewer fish are available for eagles and other fish-eaters.

Eagles are known for their fish-catching abilities. They delight eagle-watchers each winter with their aerial acrobatics as one lucky eagle with a fish in its talons tries to escape from the others who would take it away.

Last Sunday, Bohlen was sitting in his pickup truck just off Lake Springfield’s Center Park watching snow geese through a spotting scope clamped to his window. The geese were swirling overhead, some landing and some taking off.

“They’re hard as heck to count,” he said with a laugh.

The same geese that drew Bohlen to the lake may also be attracting eagles. Bohlen said he counted about 10,000 snow geese, 7,000 to 8,000 Canada geese and about 2,000 white-fronted geese staging on the lake and flying overhead in large flocks.

Monday morning, an adult bald eagle sat in a tree at Lincoln Greens Golf Course surveying a flock of Canada geese below. The geese seemed unconcerned about the predatory bird perched directly overhead.

That’s because an eagle probably would not take on a larger bird, especially a healthy Canada goose. Canada geese can weigh from six to 20 pounds, and eagles weigh about 10 to 14 pounds.

But a goose that is injured becomes vulnerable.

Eagles are known to follow migrating flocks of geese to prey on those that can’t keep up.

Bohlen said sometimes eagles fly over a flock of geese to flush them and see what happens.

“If you don’t do the right thing, you are a suspect,” Bohlen said of any goose that appears hurt.

Eagles take fish, but they also scavenge dead fish and even road-killed deer.

“I think a lot of birds of prey are like that. They will eat whatever they can get,” he said.

But sometimes, eagles don’t behave as expected.

“There was one dead blue goose lying on the ice last Saturday,” he said. “I thought for sure the eagles would come and get it, but I checked back two or three times and nothing happened.

“Overnight something got it,” Bohlen said. “I figure if it was at night, it must have been a coyote or something.”

Bohlen is not the only one seeing eagles. Reports from the public include eagles spotted along Mechanicsburg Road near the Sandbar Tavern, from Business Route 55 near Carpenter Park and at Buckhart.

Bohlen said that in addition to the eagles he saw flying overhead last Sunday, he spotted eight more on Lake Springfield between Marine Point and Interstate 55.

Of the 27 he counted at once, 25 were young eagles, less than five years old.

The day before, he saw 10 eagles at Sangchris Lake.

When told that eagle counts were down statewide, Bohlen laughed.

“Well, they are up here.”

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

Eagles at a distance

Bald eagles soar with their wings flat and level, distinguishing them from turkey vultures, which soar with their wings in a “V” or dihedral position.

Red-tailed hawks also soar with wings flat and level, but the bald eagle’s long bill helps distinguish it from a red-tailed hawk.

Large black birds that flap their wings constantly and soar infrequently probably are crows.

Eagles of both sexes take up to five years to develop the characteristic white head and tail of an adult. Juveniles are dark, with various amounts of streaking. An eagle on the verge of adulthood often will have a dirty white head with a dark eye-stripe.

Copyright 2010 The State Journal-Register. Some rights reserved

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i have seen as many eagles this year if not more than years past we live on a farm all u have to do is through out a dead hog ive seen in average 30 a day some times up to 50 they are a mixture of adult and juvenile eagles

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/20 at 11:52 AM

I saw no shortage of eagles down in the Banner/Rice Lake area this goose season - pretty much just as many as I’ve ever seen.  Maybe more.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/21 at 07:45 AM

I think they are more dispersed this year than in years past. They just aren’t as concentrated at the locks and dams it seems.

Posted by illin on 02/21 at 11:25 AM

“Fewer eagles than usual also have been present at eagle-watching events on the Illinois River ? possibly due to the river being free of ice.” Also, possibly because of all the gawkers with binoculars around their necks scrambling around trying to get the best position to watch the eagles.

“When rivers are open, eagles do not have to congregate around dams where rushing water keeps a portion of the river open and stunned fish are easy pickings.”  Yuh Think?  How scientific a method is this for having any kind of handle on the actual population of eagles in Illinois.  We live on a tributary creek a few miles upstream of the Ohio River and see eagles almost everyday.  There are lots of eagles up and down the entire Ohio River from the Wabash to Cairo, and on all the river’s tributaries.  They are mostly scavengers and will eat almost anything dead or alive.  We watched a pair clean up a dead deer for three or four days.  This kind of story would cause concern that the eagles are in danger in Illinois, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  They are doing fine.  Some people did not want to take them off of the “threatened species listing” and that’s why these “suspect” figures are reported to the press.  It’s just another case of fanatics reporting propaganda to support their own agenda.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/21 at 06:46 PM

Bone, it wasn’t the standing corn… was the weather.  It was too cold for the eagles in the morning and too hot for the eagles in the afternoon of the day that the “birders” took to the field.  Or, wait, maybe it was too cold for the “birders” in the morning, and too hot for the “birders” in the afternoon.  Aww hell, it had to be something like that.  Wait, it might have been cougars, yeah, that was it, the cougars ate all the eagles.  No, it was probably a low count because of the Asian Carp.  Yeah, that had to be it….those damned Asian Carp.  I guess we’ll just have to spend another 36 million dollars to try and save the eagles from those damned Asian Carp.  Wait, I know, it was the children in the corn.  Yeah, that had to be it…..............the children in the corn….you know with those scythes things on their shoulders.  Bone was right all the time…it was the corn.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/22 at 11:03 PM

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