Bald eagle population reaching record numbers

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

State officials estimate that record numbers of American Bald Eagles are soaring above Iowa.

Decades ago, conservationists would have been thrilled to spot 15 bald eagles in the state.

On January 10 alone, Linn Grove area resident Diane Noll reported seeing nine mature and immature eagles.

After the bird was placed on the endangered species list and the pesticide DDT was banned in the 1970s, the population has strongly recovered.

Bruce Ehresman, the Department of Natural Resources wildlife diversity biologist, estimates this year's tally matches or exceeds last year's record of more than 4,400. That's up from an estimated 2,000 eagles just a few years ago.

"I've seen a steady growth in the number of eagles seen each year, and this year (there) seems like a fairly large number of young birds," said Tim Thompson, DNR wildlife biologist for Johnson County. "It takes a few years before a young bird gets a white head and white tail. There seems to be a lot more and that shows they're having pretty good reproduction."

In the 1990s, local officials had a goal to have 15 eagle nests in Johnson County. Recent counts show there are about 113 nests in the county, he said.

Rick Hollis, former president of the Iowa City Bird Club, said those counts are a good measure of the success conservationists have had in recent years to protect the bird. He said DDT caused birds to produce thin eggshells, which broke during nesting.

"When I first came to Iowa in the early 1970s, I would go to the Quad Cities in the winter and would be thrilled if I would see 12 or 15 in a day, and now I go to locks and dams and see 100 in a good day," Hollis said.

Hundreds of bald eagles are now visible along the state's waterways. In the winter, areas along waterways that are not frozen are a prime spot for eagle watching.

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