Eagle population hits record high in Wisconsin; 1,590 nesting pairs found during annual surveySubmitted: 12/06/2017
Katie Thoresen
Katie Thoresen
Senior Producer

Eagle population hits record high in Wisconsin; 1,590 nesting pairs found during annual survey
ONEIDA COUNTY - In 1973, the DNR found 108 nesting pairs of eagles. 

This year, it found 1,590, which is the highest number of eagles in the state since the DNR started the survey. 

"If you had asked our eagle folks 25 years ago if we would ever see 1,500 pairs of nesting eagles in the state. I think the answer would have been no way," said DNR Natural Heritage Conservation program coordinator Jim Woodford. 

The DNR found 86 more nesting pairs of eagles in the state than they did last year, but it actually went down in Oneida County.

Oneida and Vilas counties have the highest populations of eagles in the state. 

Woodford, who was part of the DNR's survey team, says the decrease of nesting pairs isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

It likely means that the eagle population in Oneida County has reached its maximum size. 

"The one surprising thing this year was the lack of any new territories showing up in Oneida County. It's not anything to be concerned about eagles. It's just the natural thing. There's only enough space for the numbers that we have," said Woodford.

The rising eagle population over the years has meant a large patient load of wildlife rehabilitators like Mark Naniot. 

The Wild Instincts Rehabilitation Director said he used to only see two or three eagles a year when he first started out about 30 years ago. 

Last year, he took in 47.

"We see a lot more territorial fights than we saw before because of course there's more eagles so they're fighting more for territory. They're spreading their limits out a lot more," said Naniot. 

Woodford says banning the pesticide DDT helped the eagle population the most. It was banned in 1972.
Now, according to Naniot, cars and lead poisoning are the biggest threats to eagles. 

"About 80-85 percent of the eagles that we see have some levels of lead or toxic levels where they need to be treated," said Naniot.

Naniot tests every eagle he gets for lead. He says it only takes a small particle of lead to poison an eagle.
Naniot says those lead particles usually come from bullets. Lead particles from bullet usually spread about an eight-inch radius around the entry wound. 

If hunters leave the deer carcass somewhere that eagles can get to it, eagles can ingest a lead particle.
"On your hunting and fishing equipment, get rid of the lead, we've been trying to tell people that for many years. There's alternatives out there," said Naniot. "Get rid of the lead. Get the newer equipment that doesn't contaminate the equipment."

While Naniot hopes people will remove lead from their outdoor gear, the rising eagle population makes him and Woodford hopeful for the species future. 

Woodford said the biggest surprise was finding a nest in Kenosha County. 

It's the first time one was found in the county in more than a century. There's now only two counties in Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Walworth, without a nesting pair of eagles. 

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