A Minnesota research project might help get the bald eagle off the endangered species list. Any state with an eagle population needs a plan to monitor and protect the birds before they can be taken off the list. Learning where eagles nest might help protect the habitat they need to flourish. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Gunderson reports:
A Minnesota research project might help get the bald eagle off the
endangered species list. Any state with an eagle population needs a plan to
monitor and protect the birds before they can be taken off the list. Learning
where eagles nest might help protect the habitat they need to flourish.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Gunderson reports:
Jim Grier knows eagles. For 44 years he’s watched the birds and climbed
into their nests. The North Dakota State University Zoology Professor is leading the study of Minnesota eagle habitat.
(plane engine starting)
The research starts in the spring. Grier spends hours flying in a four seat
Cessna with a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources pilot, looking for
“We’re gonna come real close to this one Dan, coming right around on the
right side, we’ll lift the wing. Oh man, that’s an old nest too.”
An eagle sits in tree nearby. This location is marked on a map as an active
nesting site. There are more than 700 bald eagle pairs in Minnesota.
After the nests are located and mapped, the hard work starts on the ground.
Jeremy Guinn is a graduate student. He spends weeks driving, hiking, and
canoeing to eagle nests. He typically gets to two or three a day.
As he approaches a nest Guinn peers through binoculars looking for signs of
“There’s at least two up there. The other one’s hunkered down.”
A young eagle looks down from a nest high atop a cottonwood tree in a
farmer’s pasture. The adult eagles are likely fishing in a nearby lake.
Guinn conducts a detailed study of the area around the nest.
“What kind of trees they use, what kind of forest they choose to place their
nest in. How close to the water they are. And also to determine the amount
of human activity that they choose to nest around.”
Eagles are more often choosing humans for neighbors. Because eagle
populations are growing so quickly, traditional forest nesting areas are
becoming crowded. Each pair of eagles needs their own territory, so young
pairs are often forced to look for less traditional nesting sites.
“I’ve seen eagles on powerlines, in the back yard of a cabin, some even
overlooking the cabin where the nest is hanging over the roof of a cabin. And also
more wild or traditional sites as you usually think of eagle nests.”
It appears bald eagles are quite adaptable. They need a tall tree to build a
nest, and water nearby where they can catch fish. But one of the key questions
is how well they tolerate human neighbors.
Jim Grier is heading up the study. The North Dakota State University Eagle researcher says each new generation of eagles seems a bit more tolerant.
“A lot of the eagle nests now that are in closer contact with human activity,
the young birds that grow up in those nests, looking down and seeing all
the human presence around them, as long as people aren’t shooting at them or
bothering them, as long as everybody is minding their own business the
eagles basically accept humans are part of the natural environment.”
The study Jim Grier is doing should provide a better understanding of how to
make sure eagle nesting sites are protected. States must meet two challenges before the bald eagle is taken off the endangered list. There must be a plan to monitor eagle populations in the future and eagle nesting habitat must be protected.
But monitoring eagles is labor intensive and expensive.
Eagle researchers say there needs to be a more efficient way of
checking on the birds. Some say enlisting volunteers to monitor nests may be
one answer. But there are questions about the scientific validity of that
Researcher Jim Grier says it might be two or three years before everyone can
agree on a plan to protect eagles in the future.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources nongame specialist Joan Galli
says she’s not predicting when the bald eagle will come off the endangered
“This is a species where the recovery is good and the news is good and
things are going well and you would think that it would be easy to delist. And that
has certainly not been the case, it’s been quite a challenge.”
The study of bald eagle habitat in Minnesota should be completed later this
year. The Department of Natural Resources and the Federal Fish and Wildlife
Service will use the results to develop a more comprehensive plan for
managing the bald eagle across the nation.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Gunderson.