Wisconsin's eagle recovery efforts took flight in the 1960s when volunteer Chuck Sindelar of Waukesha started spending summers riding shotgun in a small plane, peering into eagle nests. Sindelar paid for the contract pilot out of his own pocketbook so he could check out the reports of eagle activity reported by citizens. In later years, Dave Evans, a Duluth volunteer, and Ron Eckstein, a DNR biologist, would follow Sindelar's aerial surveys by climbing the trees where Sindelar found active nests. Together, the three banded more than 3,000 eaglets, yielding information to help better understand Wisconsin eagles and how to manage their habitat.
"Waukesha Man Helped Bald Eagle Recovery," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 18, 2012
Bald eagles have enjoyed a remarkable recovery in Wisconsin and nationwide since being placed on the state and federal endangered species lists in the 1970s. Eagles were removed from Wisconsin's endangered list in 1997 and from the federal list in 2007. In 2014, 1,279 occupied eagle nests were documented in 66 of the 69 counties surveyed.
Bald eagles' recovery nationwide has its roots in Wisconsin. Unlimited shooting and habitat destruction in Wisconsin's early statehood led to declining bald eagle numbers, and organochlorine pesticides like DDT accelerated the problem. DDT, which was extensively used on farms and forests during the 1950s and 1960s, caused eagle egg shells to thin and break, resulting in few eaglets hatching.
Wisconsin's groundbreaking 1969 hearings on DDT resulted in DNR ruling that the chemical was an environmental pollutant. That put the pressure on nationally and help force a national ban starting in 1972 on DDT. Wisconsin also helped spark the national recovery by supplying eaglets to other states. Since 1975, we've sent 215 eaglets to 10 other states. Wisconsin eagles have been released near the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and in a Hudson River valley park in New York City.
As levels of the insecticide declined in the environment, protections under the state and federal endangered species laws and funding from Wisconsin citizens through the tax check-off and Adopt-An-Eagle Nest program allowed biologists to conduct aerial surveys to find eagle nests and contact landowners to alert them of the nests and also ways to protect eagle habitat.
The funding and recovery plan also spurred biologists and partners to count and band eaglets and to monitor contaminants. Through these efforts, eagle populations have taken flight in Wisconsin: the number of eagle pairs has grown from 108 eagle pairs in 1973 to a record 1,343 breeding pairs in Wisconsin in 2013!
Today DNR and partners work to protect nests. Learn more about the current distribution and status of the eagle on the Bureau of Conservation Heritage Bald Eagle web page.
Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest
The forest occupies more than 225,000 acres in Vilas, Oneida and Iron counties. Good places to view bald eagles on this property include the Rainbow Flowage Dam on County Highway D near Lake Tomahawk; Allequash Lake off County Highway M south of Boulder Junction; and Island Lake off Highway 51 near Manitowish Waters.
Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Burnett County
The wildlife area is a 30,000 acre property of wetlands, brush prairies, and forests scattered across a gently rolling landscape. It is located in western Burnett County.
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge
Eagles are found along the entire refuge in winter below the dams where they can take advantage of open water to find food. In March, the eagles sit on the ice all along the refuge as they migrate to their homes elsewhere in Wisconsin.
Click to view larger eagle image
Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus, from Latin meaning sea bird. The bald eagle is the only eagle unique to North America; worldwide, there are nearly 60 species of eagles.
Size: Wisconsin bald eagles have a wingspan of 6 feet, weigh 8 to 14 pounds and range from 34 to 43 inches for females and 30 to 35 inches for males.
Habits and habitats: Bald eagles usually build their nests in tall trees near lakes and streams, often a live white pine, with large sticks as shell and softer material as the lining. Nests are generally up to 4 or 5 feet across and 3 feet deep. Eagles are sexually mature at 5 to 6 years, and may breed for up to 20 years, keeping the same mate. Females lay one to three eggs, which both parents incubate. The breeding season extends from February through August. Favored wintering and roosting habitat includes wooded valleys near open water and major rivers from December through March.
Food: Bald eagles' favorite food is fish but they also dine on injured waterfowl and muskrats; a favorite winter food is deer that have been run over by cars. Eating roadside carrion can be dangerous and the leading cause of eagle death in Wisconsin is being hit be a car; about 15 percent of all eagle deaths are caused by lead poisoning.
Fun Fact: Bald eagles can fly to an altitude of 10,000 feet and achieve speeds of up to 60 miles per hour in steep dives. They have excellent eyesight, with sharpness at least four times that of a person with perfect vision. An eagle flying at an altitude of 1,000 feet over open country can spot prey over an area of almost 3 square miles from a fixed position.