Contact: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902
DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife seeks reports
from public to bolster annual statewide bald eagle survey
DOVER (Nov. 13, 2014) – Each year, the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife conducts a statewide aerial survey to monitor Delaware’s bald eagle population. By conducting surveys from February through May, wildlife biologists identify resident bald eagle territories and examine them for active nesting and productivity. As in recent years, the Division is again requesting that Delawareans report bald eagle sightings to help identify new nests and to give better focus to these aerial surveys.
“Eagles in this region may start nest-building activity as early as the beginning of November, so sightings at this time of year may provide information that will help us find a new nest,” said Wildlife Biologist Kate Fleming of the Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Wildlife Species Conservation and Research Program. “Last year, the Division monitored 91 active and historic bald eagle territories, including 74 pairs of eagles that attempted nesting. Fifty-four of those eagle pairs, or 73 percent, were successful in raising a total of at least 81 chicks.”
Fleming recommends these tips for the public 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 all-white heads and tails. Immature bald eagles have mostly brown heads and tails, often with white mottling 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, 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 road intersections, addresses, or prominent landmarks as reference points. (For example, “Adult eagle seen 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 of Fish & Wildlife as soon as possible. Please do not approach nesting eagles to avoid the risk of nest disturbance or abandonment.
Bald eagles are Delaware’s largest bird of prey and may be found statewide in any season. During winter, Delaware is home to many eagles that migrate from the north to temporarily join along with our resident population. Many resident bald eagles begin to maintain their nests in November. Most nests are reused each year and become larger each nesting season as the eagles continue to add new sticks. By 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 begin the search for their own nesting territory.
Just over 25 years ago, spotting a bald eagle in Delaware was a rare event. In 1987, the Division of Fish & Wildlife monitored just four nesting territories, each containing a single nest. Though two of those four nests in 1987 failed, the remaining two nests produced four chicks, the start of the eagle’s flight back to their current success in Delaware.
The bald eagle’s previous listing as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act plus the banning of the pesticide DDT, have helped eagles make a remarkable comeback. In what is considered a true conservation success story, bald eagles were removed from the federal Endangered Species list in 2007. Currently, protection continues for eagles through the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
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 & Wildlife receives many calls regarding possibly injured eagles, which are often seen sitting in fields or yards for long periods of time. In most cases, these eagles are perfectly healthy. 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 large, powerful birds and are capable of injuring a would-be rescuer. We strongly encourage the public to refrain from approaching or attempting to capture any potentially injured eagle,” Fleming said. “It is best to watch cautiously 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.”
To report observations, potential nests or possible injuries, or for more information, please contact Wildlife Biologist Kate Fleming, Wildlife Species Conservation and Research Program, at 302-735-8658, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vol. 44, No. 398