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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published January 7, 2020

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Bald Eagle Watching Events Take Off In January

Bald Eagle Watching Days Happening Jan. 17-18 in Sauk Prairie Area

Watch the live release of rehabilitated bald eagles at the Jan. 18 Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac. - Photo credit: Matt Ahrens
Watch the live release of rehabilitated bald eagles at the Jan. 18 Bald Eagle Watching Days in the Sauk Prairie area.Photo credit: Matt Ahrens

Contact(s): Sumner Matteson, DNR avian ecologist, 608-266-1571,

MADISON, Wis. -- Bald eagle lovers can watch eagles perching or soaring above the Wisconsin River, see rehabilitated eagles be released into the wild and view eagles up close indoors during live raptor shows at the 34th annual Bald Eagle Watching Days Jan. 17-18 in Sauk Prairie.

The event, the longest-running eagle watching extravaganza in the state, kicks off Wisconsin's eagle watching season. Other events are set for Kaukauna on Jan. 25, in Prairie du Chien on Feb. 28-29 and in Ferryville on March 7. Check the eagle watching page of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource website for more information on these events and general eagle watching tips.

"These events are marvelous opportunities for people to come together to celebrate the success of bald eagle recovery and conservation in Wisconsin," said Sumner Matteson, an avian ecologist with the DNR Natural Heritage Conservation program.

Marge Gibson and Raptor Education Group Inc. staff will release up to three rehabilitated bald eagles during Bald Eagle Watching Days. The release is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, at VFW Park in Prairie du Sac.

Other highlights include free guided bus tours to popular eagle viewing sites all-day Jan. 18, live raptor shows featuring educational birds and trainers from the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 and many more family-friendly activities. Full details are available on the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council website: (exit DNR).

The DNR Natural Heritage Conservation (NHC) program, co-hosts Bald Eagle Watching Days with the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, the Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, the Tripp Heritage Museum, Bird City Wisconsin, and Raptor Education Group, Inc.

The NHC also will have a booth Feb. 29 at Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Prairie du Chien.

Bald eagle populations in Wisconsin have grown from 108 occupied nests in the early 1970s to nearly 1,700 today, affording fantastic viewing opportunities as eagles from northern Wisconsin, Canada, northern Michigan and Minnesota move south in search of open waters. Raptors looking for fish typically congregate along open water areas below dams along the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Fox rivers, where their growing presence has turned the sites into birdwatching destinations and inspired many community events.

When and Where to Look for Eagles This Winter

A warm start to 2020 and open water still on many larger southern lakes means eagles are currently dispersed across Wisconsin. However, Matteson said that colder weather forecast for mid-January may bring more eagles to traditional roost sites along the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Fox rivers.

The best time to see eagles will be in the early morning (7:30-10 a.m.) as they come down from their roost sites to feed along the river and an hour before dusk as they return to their roosts.

When viewing eagles at these events or on your own, biologists advise onlookers not to venture too close as it will cause the eagles to fly off. Watchers are also encouraged to stay in their cars unless they are at a staffed viewing site.

To learn more about bald eagle watching visit the DNR website.



Bald Eagle Numbers Soar 27 Percent in Southeastern Wisconsin

Increases Across Majority of State

New bald eagle nests were reported by citizens in 2019  - Photo credit: Rich Staffen
New bald eagle nests were reported by citizens in 2019 Photo credit: Rich Staffen

Contact(s): Laura Jaskiewicz, research scientists, (for statewide numbers) 715-365-8922,

Sharon Fandel, conservation biologist, (for southeastern Wisconsin numbers), 608-279-4768,

MADISON, Wis. - Bald eagle numbers soared 27 percent in southeastern Wisconsin in 2019, and populations grew in nearly all parts of the state, as citizen reports helped steer DNR planes, pilots and conservation biologists to more nests to check and volunteer monitors added to the tally.

"Bald eagles' remarkable comeback continues as they expand into unoccupied territories," said Laura Jaskiewicz, the DNR research scientist coordinating the aerial surveys. "We're also excited that many of the new nests were reported from the ground by landowners, raptor enthusiasts and volunteers, adding to the information we're able to collect from the air."

DNR has conducted aerial surveys of known nest locations since the 1970s, documenting population trends and providing current information to landowners and forest managers on nest locations so they can avoid disturbing the birds during the breeding season.

Ground reports and DNR aerial surveys found [PDF] 1,684 occupied eagle nests in 71 of 72 counties in 2019, with all but northwestern and west central Wisconsin experiencing increases. Overall, researchers documented 11 fewer active nests than the record 1,695 in 2018. An occupied nest is a nest with an incubating adult, eggs, young or a repaired nest.

"Northwestern Wisconsin, which had the second-highest number of eagle nests in the state (360), is nearing carrying capacity, which could explain the slight decrease in this area," Jaskiewicz said. Surveyors for west central Wisconsin believe the late harsh winter may have impacted eagle numbers in that area.

As in past years, Vilas and Oneida counties had the most nests at 175 and 150, respectively. These two counties represent most of the Northern Highland Ecological Landscape, which has one of the highest concentrations of freshwater lakes in the world. Bald eagles build their nests near water for ready access to fish, one of their main prey items.

Bald eagles were endangered in Wisconsin and nationally in the 1970s when there were only 108 nests known in Wisconsin. Protections under federal and state endangered species laws, declining levels of the pesticide DDT in the environment coupled with the DNR and partner efforts to help monitor and aid recovery helped bald eagles fly off the state endangered species list in 1997 and the federal list in 2007. Eagles and their nests are still federally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Find more information about bald eagles in Wisconsin and opportunities to see them this winter in the wild, including at events also featuring live raptor shows, on DNR's Bald Eagle Watching webpage.



'Eagle Eyes' Find Previously Unknown Nest Locations

Volunteers Needed for 2020 Bald Eagle Survey Season

Citizen scientists and landowners can help DNR track bald eagle nesting trends by reporting nest sites.  - Photo credit: DNR
Citizen scientists and landowners can help DNR track bald eagle nesting trends by reporting nest sites. Photo credit: DNR

Contact(s): Laura Jaskiewicz, research scientists, (for statewide numbers) 715-365-8922, 

Sharon Fandel, conservation biologist, (for southeastern Wisconsin numbers), 608-279-4768,
Rich Staffen, conservation biologist, 608 266-4340,  

MADISON, Wis. - With bald eagles soon nesting across Wisconsin, state conservation biologists are hoping citizens can once again provide "eagle eyes" for new nests not known to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Anyone who observes eagles engaged in nest building activities or who wishes to report a possible eagle nest may report it by contacting the bald eagle survey coordinator, Laura Jaskiewicz, via email at

Eagles in Wisconsin - especially in the southern third of the state - typically begin nest building in January and may lay eggs as early as mid-February. Male and female eagles build the nest together as part of their pair bonding.

Eagles mate for life, choosing the tops of large trees to build nests, which they typically reuse and enlarge by adding new material to the nests each year. Nests start at 5-6 feet and may reach 10 feet across and weigh a ton or more. An eagle pair also may have one or more alternate nests within their breeding territory. Both eagles will bring sticks to add to the nest structure and arrange them within the nest, according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

In 2019, the highest number of citizen scientists and landowners helped the DNR track bald eagle trends across the year, through nesting surveys as well as winter roost counts. Groups such as the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council have conducted winter roost counts for three decades along the Wisconsin River, while the 1000 Islands Environmental Center started counts in recent years along the Fox River in northeastern Wisconsin.

"There is definitely more public awareness of our eagle survey efforts, which no doubt is tied to an overall increased use of social media," said Sharon Fandel, a DNR district ecologist with DNR's Natural Heritage Conservation program, who is responsible for surveying southeastern Wisconsin.

In recent years, citizen reports that Fandel confirmed as the first known eagle nests in Kenosha and Walworth County have spurred additional reports in other counties, resulting in more nests being added to the map.

Volunteers for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, a 5-year, comprehensive survey of breeding birds in Wisconsin, also yielded additional nests that were unknown to DNR but were reported via the eBird reporting platform.

Furthermore, for the third year, volunteers with the Madison Audubon Society's Bald Eagle Nest Watch program monitored eagle nests weekly in Dane County, which has seen its numbers go from zero nests in 2005 to 13 this year. The group expanded to several surrounding counties this year, thanks to the number of active and interested volunteers.

"This volunteer project is providing valuable information on nest productivity in a highly urbanized landscape," said Rich Staffen, the DNR conservation biologist who works with the group. "In 2019, we had challenges with making the low altitude flights in and around Madison. Fortunately, the volunteers were already monitoring the nests from the ground, so their information allowed us to provide a complete picture of eagle populations in the area."


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, January 07, 2020

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