03 February 2017

Bald Eagle Numbers Soar in Nebraska

The number of Bald Eagle nesting within Nebraska had a dramatic increase in 2016. There were 158 active nests recorded, compared to 118 in 2015, according to a report recently issued by the nongame wildlife program of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Records on nesting activity and locales have been kept for at least a decade, with agency surveys and a compilation of contributed information methodology being used by agency staff since 2012.

In north-central Nebraska, these eagles nested in Brown county (two sites), Keya Paha county (two sites), Cherry county (at ten localities), as well as Grant and Hooker counties which each had one known nest. There were no known nests in Thomas or Sheridan counties.

In addition to surveys by the state agency, information was also provided by federal agency staff, non-governmental groups and public power districts. Numerous individuals also contributed useful information. Carolyn Semin contributed details on a new nest in the south Kilgore vicinity. Information for Cherry county was also provided by staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service. Special thanks was given to "Dr. Joseph Gubanyi and his biology students for monitoring several nests in eastern Nebraska and to a Niobrara High School science class for monitoring nests in northeast Nebraska," the report said.

An active nest can be used for many years, with more sticks piled on annually, so nests often become quite large and thus very obvious to observers.

This raptor starts nesting in late winter, so pairs are currently establishing their home territory and repairing or preparing their nest. It takes many weeks to incubate a clutch of eggs and then nourish the young to an age when they fledge and fly away from their nest haven.

Nests in Cherry county notably occur along the Niobrara River and in the lake country of the eastern and central portion of the county. There may be nests near lakes in the southwest portion of the county, but are likely not realized due to the lack of bird-watching activity in the area. An especially nice, repeatedly successful nest is in the Niobrara valley, atop a fine tree just a short distance south of the heart city. In the interior sandhills, nests occur by lakes that have a large tree that can support the mass of sticks of a nest. In the eastern extent of the region, the species occurs along many of the primary rivers.

The first modern-era nest of this eagle apparently occurred in 1991 in eastern Nebraska, according to the report. The number of known nests has continued to increase each subsequent year. The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was removed from the federal list of threatened or endangered species in 2007, and from a corresponding Nebraska list in 2008.