Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife Seeks Reports from Public for Annual Bald Eagle Survey

April 25, 2012
By

DOVER
April 24, 2012

Each year, with soaring expectations, the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife monitors Delaware’s bald eagle population statewide. By conducting aerial surveys from February through May, wildlife biologists examine resident bald eagle territories for active nesting and productivity. The Division also encourages Delawareans to assist biologists with their work by reporting bald eagle sightings to help track resident eagles and locate possible new nest sites.

“Last year, the Division monitored 68 active bald eagle territories, including 59 pairs of eagles that attempted nesting. Forty-four of those eagle pairs were successful in raising a record 84 chicks,” said wildlife biologist Anthony Gonzon of the Division’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. “In January 2012, the Division recorded a record high of 150 bald eagles during the national mid-winter eagle survey. So far this spring, we are monitoring 74 active territories, with high hopes for another record year in successful nests and eaglets.”

Bald eagles are Delaware’s largest bird of prey and may be found statewide in any season, Gonzon said. During winter, Delaware is home to many migrant eagles along with the resident population. Resident bald eagles begin to maintain their nests as early as December. Most nests are reused each year and become larger each nesting season as the eagles continue to add new sticks. In February, most active nests hold two to three large white eggs.

Peak hatching for eagles typically occurs in March and, by 14-16 weeks of age, most eaglets are flying. After fledging, juvenile eagles will remain with their parents for several weeks. Five years later, they will reach maturity, grow their distinctive white head and tail feathers and search for their own nesting territory.

Twenty-five years ago, spotting a bald eagle in Delaware was a rare event. In 1987, the Division monitored just four nesting territories, each containing a single nest – compared to the 68 territories monitored last year, and 74 so far this year. Though two of those four nests in 1987 failed, the remaining two produced four chicks, the start of the eagle’s flight back to enduring prosperity in Delaware.

“The bald eagle’s listing as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act in addition to the banning of the pesticide DDT, have helped eagles make a remarkable comeback – a true conservation success story,” Gonzon said, noting that bald eagles were removed from the federal Endangered Species list in 2007. “Currently, they are protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” he added.

Bald eagles still face some threats. Habitat loss and disturbance are always concerns and can reduce the number of available territories, but do not typically result in mortality for eagles. However, vehicle collisions, poaching and unintentional poisonings, including lead, can cause injuries and deaths. Fierce territorial battles between the birds also can lead to serious injuries and occasional mortality.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife receives many calls about possibly injured eagles, which are often seen sitting in fields or yards for long periods of time. In most cases, the eagles are perfectly healthy, Gonzon said. Bald eagles may remain in a single location for hours as they recover from a territorial battle with other adult eagles or as they feed, rest and conserve energy.

“Eagles are tremendously powerful birds and are capable of injuring a would-be rescuer. We strongly encourage the public not to approach or attempt to capture any potentially injured eagle,” Gonzon said. “Cautiously watch from a distance and note whether the bird appears to be having difficulty flying or is clearly in distress before contacting someone with the proper training to help.”

Gonzon offers these tips for the public on how to report bald eagle sightings:

- Note the number of eagles observed and whether each eagle is an adult or a juvenile. Adults display the distinctive completely white heads and tails. Immature bald eagles have mostly brown heads and tails, often with some white on their breasts and bellies, as well as under the wings.
- Note what the eagle is doing. Is it flying or sitting? Is it carrying something or eating on the ground?
- If the bald eagle is flying, please note the direction that it flew from and the direction in which it was headed.
- Note the date, time, and location of the observation. Use nearest towns and intersections or prominent landmarks as reference points (for example, on Route 6, a half mile west of the intersection with Route 9).
- If you believe you have located a bald eagle nest, please contact the Division as soon as possible. Please do not approach nesting eagles, as some pairs may be highly disturbed by spectators.

To report observations, potential nests or possible injuries, or to ask other questions, please contact Wildlife Biologist Anthony Gonzon, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, at 302-735-8673, or email anthony.gonzon@state.de.us.

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