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Published Monday, December 16, 2013 at 10:51 am / Updated at 4:38 am
Number of recorded bald eagle nests holds steady after decades of increases

LINCOLN — The drought of 2012 may be the culprit behind 2013 being the first year that bald eagle nestings haven’t increased in Nebraska in more than two decades.

The number of recorded active bald eagle nests in the state held more or less steady from 2012 to 2013, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Wildlife biologists and others counted 102 active nests this year, down from 103 in 2012.

In Iowa, preliminary statistics indicate 363 active nests this year, compared with 336 last year, said Stephanie Shepherd, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife diversity biologist in Boone.

Iowa’s nesting increase can’t be directly compared with Nebraska’s decline because biologists in the two states don’t follow a common protocol, Shepherd said.

For example, Iowa may have had more people looking for nests this year than last year, resulting in more discoveries, she said. Fifty-nine new active nests were reported this year in Iowa, compared with 48 last year.

The number of active nests in Nebraska had increased each year since 1991, when the first active nest in a century was recorded in the state.

The flat numbers surprised Joel Jorgensen, the Nebraska commission’s nongame bird program manager, because the state had substantially increased its survey efforts.

“In past years, increased survey effort produced proportionally more active nests,” he said. “We have been accustomed to annual increases.”

Jorgensen said the reason for the flat nest numbers is unclear, though it’s possible that the populations of prey that bald eagles depend on were reduced during the drought. Future nest monitoring will determine whether the 2013 results represent a leveling off of Nebraska’s bald eagle population or a temporary pause in long-term increases.

Regardless, the number of bald eagle nests recorded in Nebraska this year is 10 times greater than the goal identified in the 1980s by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jorgensen said.

The recovery of the bald eagle is considered a modern conservation success story.

The bird was listed as a federally and state endangered species in 1978. Populations declined greatly throughout the 20th century, primarily because of the use of DDT and other, similar chemical pesticides. In 1963 there were fewer than 500 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states.

After the banning of DDT and many years of intense management efforts, the bald eagle was removed from both the federal and state lists of threatened and endangered species.

In Nebraska, the majority of bald eagle nests are concentrated along major rivers, including the Missouri, Platte and Loup systems. Bald eagle nest monitoring is conducted and coordinated by the commission, which also relies on other agencies and trained volunteers. Partners include the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Nebraska Public Power District and students from Concordia University in Seward.

LINCOLN — The drought of 2012 may be the culprit behind 2013 being the first year that bald eagle nestings haven’t increased in Nebraska in more than two decades.

The number of recorded active bald eagle nests in the state held more or less steady from 2012 to 2013, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Wildlife biologists and others counted 102 active nests this year, down from 103 in 2012.

In Iowa, preliminary statistics indicate 363 active nests this year, compared with 336 last year, said Stephanie Shepherd, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife diversity biologist in Boone.

Iowa’s nesting increase can’t be directly compared with Nebraska’s decline because biologists in the two states don’t follow a common protocol, Shepherd said.

For example, Iowa may have had more people looking for nests this year than last year, resulting in more discoveries, she said. Fifty-nine new active nests were reported this year in Iowa, compared with 48 last year.

The number of active nests in Nebraska had increased each year since 1991, when the first active nest in a century was recorded in the state.

The flat numbers surprised Joel Jorgensen, the Nebraska commission’s nongame bird program manager, because the state had substantially increased its survey efforts.

“In past years, increased survey effort produced proportionally more active nests,” he said. “We have been accustomed to annual increases.”

Jorgensen said the reason for the flat nest numbers is unclear, though it’s possible that the populations of prey that bald eagles depend on were reduced during the drought. Future nest monitoring will determine whether the 2013 results represent a leveling off of Nebraska’s bald eagle population or a temporary pause in long-term increases.

Regardless, the number of bald eagle nests recorded in Nebraska this year is 10 times greater than the goal identified in the 1980s by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jorgensen said.

The recovery of the bald eagle is considered a modern conservation success story.

The bird was listed as a federally and state endangered species in 1978. Populations declined greatly throughout the 20th century, primarily because of the use of DDT and other, similar chemical pesticides. In 1963 there were fewer than 500 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states.

After the banning of DDT and many years of intense management efforts, the bald eagle was removed from both the federal and state lists of threatened and endangered species.

In Nebraska, the majority of bald eagle nests are concentrated along major rivers, including the Missouri, Platte and Loup systems. Bald eagle nest monitoring is conducted and coordinated by the commission, which also relies on other agencies and trained volunteers. Partners include the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Nebraska Public Power District and students from Concordia University in Seward.

Contact the writer: David Hendee

david.hendee@owh.com    |   402-444-1127

David covers a variety of news across Nebraska, particularly natural resources and rural issues and the State Game and Parks Commission.

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