Tracking the bald eagle population in Arizona

Arizona's bald eagle population, once endangered, is making a strong comeback. That's due, in part, to the state's Game and Fish Department.

The bald eagle management team has been working for decades to help the species breed.

"We do plan very carefully the time we come do this," said Kenneth 'Tuck' Jacobson, a raptor management coordinator for Game and Fish.

One morning, Jacobson rappelled down the side of a bluff high above Lake Pleasant. The eaglets Jacobson hooded and brought up are just about six weeks old. His colleagues at Game and Fish expertly handled the birds for two reasons: gather information and band the eaglets.

"This is a unique identification, and after we get this on this bird, we're going to know all of the birds information on it for the rest of its life," said Kurt Licence, a raptor biologist with Game and Fish. "Where it was born, how old it is, what sex it is, where it ends up nesting."

"We have a very small population. We have 85 breeding areas throughout the state, only 65 of which are usually active each year," said Kyle McCarty, eagle field projects coordinator for Game and Fish.

McCarty says the Game and Fish Department the has been the lead agency involved with bald eagle management since 1991. The most important thing they do is give adults a chance to successfully nest.

"One of the ways we do that at Lake Pleasant is by instituting a lake closure," said McCarty. "We have part of the lake closed from human activity, so it gives the birds a chance to breathe a little."

Collecting data is also key. Every measurement and every detail is recorded and tracked, including weight, which was a very hands-on experience. Later, A service band is added, which indicates the bird was handled by the department. While the birds are examined, Jacobson checks the nest and surrounding area, as well as cleaning out debris like fish lines, which can be dangerous, and bird ticks, which can potentially cause paralysis in the birds.

Less than an hour after they started the process, the eaglets are returned to their nests.

"It's very exciting to be a part of this," said McCarty. "The history in Arizona is pretty long with bald eagle management, and back in the 1970s, we only knew about three breeding pairs. It just shows that what we are doing is working."