Bald eagle lovers take heart

Last nesting season there was much increased interest in the Decorah Eagles? Nest Webcam, with millions of hits on the website. Schoolchildren, retirees, working folks with access to a computer, college students, in short, just about everyone, myself included, was tuned in to the happenings at the nest in Decorah.

I was fortunate enough to be an official nest monitor for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Bald Eagle nest-monitoring program last year and just received the official report of the results of that program.

As a monitor I was required to submit data from each of at least three visits to the site, recording activity, type of land (forest, cropland, etc.) water source if any, types of trees, nest location, i.e. 80 foot cottonwood or 60 foot maple, road access, and other pertinent information.

It is interesting to note that Iowa has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of nesting bald eagles over the past 20 years, resulting in a change from the status of ?threatened? to that of ?special concern? on the Threatened and Endangered Species list. Despite their apparent health, there are still challenges to their conservation, making monitoring of their activity a priority, particularly nesting activity. Most of us who pay attention to birds have noticed the increased numbers, especially in winter when it is easier to see them.

The nest-monitoring program began in 2010 with 54 sites. In 2011 monitoring increased to 135 sites, representing 50 percent of the known nesting sites in the state.

A few interesting facts have emerged:

Since 1977 approximately 538 bald eagle territories have been reported with nests reported from 91 of Iowa?s 99 counties. Allamakee County has the highest number of nests reported with 105. Clayton is second with 62.

In 2011 73 percent (213) of the 290 reported territories were deemed active, 21 percent (62) inactive with 6 percent (15) unknown activity. 35 percent of the active territories reported a 94 percent success in producing young. For the 76 territories in which there was a good count of fledglings, a total of 116 young were produced, an average of 1.53 per nest.

Monitoring data was received on 69 of the 135 official monitoring sites. Of those, 52, or 75 percent were active, 14 were inactive and 3 were unknown. Of the 52 active nests, 50 young were produced from 37 nests with 10 nests fledging 1, 16 nests fledging 2 young and 2 nests fledged 3 young. It appears that 93 percent of chicks produced in the nests reached fledging. The estimated number of young was 1.19 per monitored nest.

The DNR report states: In conclusion, with only two years of data (three years data is needed) on our sentinel territories, we do not yet have enough data to make too many conclusions.

In addition, we need to continue to increase our sample size to our target of 135 nests being monitored to be confident of the data?s accuracy and precision.

The percentage of active territories that were successful in producing young increased in 2011. Additionally, the average number of young per nest across the entire dataset increased. The previous upward trend in young per nest was reversed in the sentinel nest dataset, however, and we did have some territories which lost young.

The overall picture is positive with a record number of nests being reported this year and a very high participation rate by our volunteers.

Monitoring of the 135 nesting sites will continue in 2012. The DNR hopes to recruit and train enough monitors for all the sites. I will again be monitoring official sites, as well as keeping an eye out for previously unreported nesting territories.

Please contact me if you know where there might be a nest so that I can report and monitor it. Or, if you prefer, contact the Iowa DNR. The website is www.iowadnr.gov/environment/wildlifestewardship/nongamewildlife/volunteerwildlifesurveys/reportingeaglenests.aspx or you can send an email to Stephanie.shepherd@dnr.iowa.gov.

Also, remember that the federal government takes very seriously the protection of these birds. Interference with Bald Eagles carries a civil penalty of a maximum fine of $5,000 or one year imprisonment for a first offence with $10,000 or not more than two years in prison for a second conviction under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Felony convictions carry a maximum fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects birds that cross international borders and carries similar penalties. There are rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of violators. Fines double if the violator is an organization rather than an individual.

Interference can include the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg. ?Take? includes pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb.

Enjoy these majestic symbols of our country and give them a wide berth. The DNR recommends staying a quarter mile away from any nest, so get some good binoculars and keep your distance. This will help ensure continuance of their nesting site as well as continuing the species.


Julie Johnston is Ledger photographer.