A national emblem, a conservation success story, and scorned by Ben Franklin, the bald eagle resonates throughout the popular conscience of the United States. A bird of many misconceptions (especially noted by Ben Franklin) the bald eagle is not a voracious predator. Rather, the bird voraciously scavenges, even stealing fish from osprey and otters. In southern Wisconsin, a popular winter meal for bald eagles is fish carcasses from ice fishermen and deer carcasses.
Imagine the bird's fierce call echoing through the pineries of northern Wisconsin. Here, another misconception...the call of the bald eagle more resembles that of a gull. The characteristic screeching heard in Hollywood belongs to the red-tailed hawk.
Look at the eagle's bald head as it reaches for skyward, catching an updraft. Well, you probably know that the eagle isn't actually bald.
In Wisconsin, bald eagles nest throughout the state, in 69 of 72 counties based on Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources aerial surveys in 2015. The state hit a low number of recorded occupied nests in 1974 at 107, mostly nesting in north central and northwestern Wisconsin. Low numbers were a result of habitat destruction, shooting, and toxic chemicals like DDT. In 1972 the bird was placed on the Wisconsin Endangered Species List, and in 1978 the bird received federal protection as an endangered species in most states, though it received threatened status in Wisconsin. Since then, the population has soared. By 1994, over 500 nests were found throughout the state. By 2005, over 1,000 nests. 2015 saw an estimated 1,465 nests throughout the state, as the bird has expanded its range farther into southeastern Wisconsin.
In 1963 there were an estimated 487 nesting pairs in all of the United States. In 2015, 497 pairs of bald eagles nested in zone 2 of WDNR surveys, an area that includes all or parts of ten counties in north central Wisconsin, thought to be the highest concentration of bald eagles in the world. Not coincidentally, this area is also home to some of the highest densities of lakes in the world.
Open water beckons bald eagles because of abundant prey opportunities. Throughout winter, you can see bald eagles congregating along open water of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. Enjoy Eagle Watching Days in the Sauk City area January 13th and 14th.
Here at Faville Grove Sanctuary, we are lucky to have an occupied bald eagle nest this winter. Located about two thirds of the way up a big cottonwood, near the base of the tree, the large nest stands out against the treeline. Follow Prairie Lane down to where it turns north, and look east towards the Crawfish River and you will see the big nest, probably 5-6 feet in diameter and over two feet tall. Please view the nest from Prairie Lane, as it is located on private property.
The eagles occupying this nest could begin laying eggs as early as mid-February, and we are excited to follow their progress!
Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward