Bald eagle population soars in Minnesota

by Yelena Kibasova

Since 2000, Minnesota’s bald eagle population has increased 28 percent, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Although typically thought of as an endangered species, the bald eagle has reached stable-population status. Its population is particularly strong in Minnesota.

The DNR, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, conducted a survey finding 872 nests last spring. This is 191 more nests than five years ago in Minnesota.

But there likely are many more nests that haven’t been found.

Scientists have developed new techniques to estimate the number of nests that have not been located. The total bald eagle count for 2005 has been estimated at 1,400 active nests. Minnesota’s bald eagle population is second only to Alaska’s.

“I think it’s definitely a good thing. They’re our national bird; they’re very cool birds,” said Tabitha Berglund, a fisheries and wildlife senior. “It’s a sign that the ecosystem is in fair condition because to have a top predator like that in abundance, you have to have everything below it healthy too.”

In the 1960s, the population was at about 100 pairs in Minnesota. It was put on the Endangered Species List in 1967, and a goal was set to reach 300 nesting pairs by 2000. The goal was achieved in 1987.

“The eagle was a lot more resilient than those people who were working on recovery planning had guessed,” said Rich Baker, DNR’s nongame research coordinator. “They thought that it would take a long time for the eagle to come back from its low and it really came back quite quickly.”

The bald eagle was moved from the list and categorized as threatened in 1995. Now the species may be taken off the list entirely. This action was already proposed in 1999 but has been delayed.

“They plan to reopen the comment period for that 1999 proposal and hope to have it de-listed in the near future,” Baker said.

The University’s Raptor Center is happy to see the population stabilize, said Julia Ponder, assistant clinical professor at the center.

They have several education eagles at their facility but also work to rehabilitate and release injured wild eagles that are brought in.

Two main factors played into the declining bald eagle population.

A pesticide called DDT used in agriculture applications was introduced in 1947.

“(The pesticide) was causing thinning of eggshells that bio-accumulated this pesticide and so just the weight of the mother incubating the egg would crush the egg,” Baker said.

The pesticide was banned nationwide in 1972.

Hunting has played a part in the declining population as well, said Baker. “That was remedied by the protection of the Endangered Species Act.”

The eagles still face the dangers of lead poisoning, getting hit by vehicles and accidentally getting shot, Ponder said.

“While the primary critical threat that was dropping their population has been addressed Ö there are still issues out there and dangers out there that need to be addressed,” she said.