Midwinter Bald Eagle Count

February  19, 2013

     Even as their numbers continue to increase nationwide, there may be signs of declining populations of bald eagles in the midwest.  Wildlife biologist, Kelly McKay from Hampton, just participated for the 25th year in the National Midwinter Bald Eagle Count. And he says for the 4th year, the numbers along the Mississippi River, from Clinton to Keithsburg, are down compared to the previous years - 1,000 versus 2 to 4,000 several years ago.

     "If something is happening here, then that's something we really need to pay attention to. Because if you do something that hurts the midwest population, that's going to have a severe impact on the species as a whole because this is such a major concentration point of wintering eagles."

McKay has a theory, but it's only a theory so far. Something is limiting the availability of gizzard shad - a fish that makes up at least 90 per cent of a bald eagle's winter diet in the midwest. 

The good news, he thinks, is that nearly half the eagles he counted last month were young, showing that reproduction is not the problem for bald eagles in the midwest. Instead it's more likely a problem of winter survival.