Bald Eagle population on the rise in Arizona

- There are more bald eagles in Arizona now than ever before, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the amount of breeding pairs in the state has skyrocketed in recent years.

"Back in the 1970's, we knew of four breeding areas across Arizona, and we've been working ever since then to try and do everything we can to grow the population in Arizona," said Kenneth Jacobson, Bald Eagle Management Coordinator with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Game and Fish developed a new program a few years ago that aims to protect Bald Eagles. Since the program was developed, the Bald Eagle population in Arizona has soared to new heights.

"In 2016 we had 65 pairs of breeding Bald Eagles in the state, so 135 breeding birds and that's not including the young ones who haven't reached maturity. At five years of age, they're old enough to start breeding." said Jacobson. He went on to say that many things have been done to restore and protect the population, like nest watching.

"It gives us the chance to step in and intervene and give them a second chance," said Jacobson. "If nestlings fall out of the nest, or if a windstorm blows the nest out of a tree, we can come back, rebuild that nest, put the nestling's back, and the adults have a chance to still be successful that year."

Bald Eagles and their nests can be found pretty much anywhere that has a large body of water around the state, and Game and Fish says they are seeing these birds nest in higher elevations. They said the highest concentrated areas for the eagle population is near the lower Salt and Verde rivers.

"That's historically been the case, just because of the habitat and the prey that's available," said Kyle McCarthy, Bald Eagle Field Projects Coordinator with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

McCarthy said the Bald Eagle population diminished with the use of DDT, a form of pesticide. He said that led to widespread reproductive failures, and since its banning, breeding pairs have made a remarkable recovery.

"When we're talking about a pair of Bald Eagles, we're mainly referring to a breeding pair, so a male and a female," said McCarthy. "They're bonded together during the breeding season to have offspring. Here in Arizona, that breeding cycle starts generally in December."

As the population continues to flourish, Game and Fish will continue to make sure the reproduction is successful.

"Throughout the breeding season, we will climb into the nest and band their nestlings, so this is a unique identifier band that we'll put on their legs and any time we see that bird again, then we'll know exactly what lineage it came from, how long it's been in that breeding area, how old it is," said Kurt License, Birds and Mammal Biologist with Arizona Game and Fish.


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