Wild Wisconsin - Off the Record

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Bald eagles in Wisconsin, and across the country, were once on the verge of extinction, but they’ve made a comeback through conservation efforts. Nests for these distinct birds are now found in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, typically near a water body such as the Mississippi River. In just the last year, numbers in the southeastern part of the state have increased by 27 percent.

“Eagle flight” surveys are conducted via plane by researchers, who are looking to see if known-nests are active and incubating. Bald eagles are known for having one of the bird world’s biggest nests so they can be easy to spot and eagles tend to return to the same nest year-after-year.

We sat down with Rich Staffen, a zoologist and conservation biologist working with our Natural Heritage Inventory to learn a bit more about these raptors, and Carly Lapin, a National Heritage Conservation ecologist, about how Wisconsinites can help with continued conservation work for eagles.

Show Notes

Bald eagles in Wisconsin, and across the country, were once on the verge of extinction, but they’ve made a comeback through conservation efforts. Nests for these distinct birds are now found in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, typically near a water body such as the Mississippi River. In just the last year, numbers in the southeastern part of the state have increased by 27 percent.

“Eagle flight” surveys are conducted via plane by researchers, who are looking to see if known-nests are active and incubating. Bald eagles are known for having one of the bird world’s biggest nests so they can be easy to spot and eagles tend to return to the same nest year-after-year.

We sat down with Rich Staffen, a zoologist and conservation biologist working with our Natural Heritage Inventory to learn a bit more about these raptors, and Carly Lapin, a National Heritage Conservation ecologist, about how Wisconsinites can help with continued conservation work for eagles.


Intro Voice: [00:00:00] Welcome to Wisconsin DNR's Wild Wisconsin - Off The Record podcast.  Information straight from the source. 

Katie Grant: [00:00:12] Welcome back to another episode of Wild Wisconsin - Off The Record. I'm your host DNR's digital media coordinator, Katie Grant. Imagine it's a warm summer day. You're sitting on the edge of the lake relaxing. Maybe reading a book. You look up long enough to notice an eagle soaring across the sky and it seems everyone around you is also staring in awe. There's something about seeing an eagle that just makes everything stop. Bald eagles in Wisconsin and across the country,, used to be rarely seen, and we're on the verge of extinction, but they've made a comeback here in Wisconsin, and nests can now be found in 71 of our 72 counties.

In just the last year, their numbers in the southeastern part of the state have grown by 27%. We asked our followers on Instagram what they wanted to know about this captivating bird, and you guys sure came through with the questions. We sat down with Rich Staffen, a zoologist and conservation biologist working with our Natural Heritage Inventory to learn a bit more about these raptors.

So sit back and listen in. 

Rich Staffen: [00:01:22] So I am a zoologist and conservation biologist for the DNR and the Natural Heritage Conservation program. Formerly, we were the Endangered Resources program. So I work within a, um, section of the Natural Heritage Inventory. Okay. So as the name implies, we do a lot of inventory or surveys throughout the state, and I focus largely on vertebrate species, so birds and raptors, reptiles and amphibians and mammals, largely small mammals, and doing surveys, um, or inventory around the state on public lands, um, to help identify where some of our rare species are located.

Their distribution throughout the state, um, how they're doing, and then identify some really important or significant areas, um, for rare species on, um, state lands, state forests, state, natural areas, state parks. So all this information gets built up into the Natural Heritage nventory database, which I help, uh, add records to.

Katie Grant: [00:02:30] Okay.

Rich Staffen: [00:02:31] And that's the, like the central location for rare species and high quality natural community data that helps, um, researchers and managers and, um, is the resource for environmental review to minimize impacts on rare species throughout the state. 

Katie Grant: [00:02:49] Okay. So you spend a lot of time outdoors then? 

Rich Staffen: [00:02:52] Yeah, I get to spend, luckily, probably about maybe a quarter of my time, maybe a little bit more out in the field.

I'm doing surveys and monitoring, um, rare species. And then also, like I mentioned, um doing some, um, adding information to this rare species database, so mapping and GIS. And entering data, tabular data for the database as well. 

Katie Grant: [00:03:17] All right. What... I know you work with a lot of different things. What is your favorite thing to get out there and look for?

Rich Staffen: [00:03:25] Yeah, that's, people ask me that. That's a tricky question. I mean, I think I've started with birds and  and raptors. Um, so that's still holds a special place for me for sure. But I am doing a lot more work with, um reptiles in particular... so snakes, I do a fair amount of work with some of our rattlesnake species.

Primarily. We have a state endangered rattlesnake, the Eastern Massassauga rattlesnake. Um, and then some other, um, uncommon or rare snakes and do some turtle work. So I enjoy that a lot. And then I've, um, started to get into some small mammal work, um, for state properties and it's always kind of exciting cause it's kind of a new um realm for me to learn more about small mammals and see some of those,for the first time.

Katie Grant: [00:04:12] Something a little different. 

Rich Staffen: [00:04:13] Yeah. Yeah . It's kinda fun.

Katie Grant: [00:04:15] So you mentioned working with raptors, um, and obviously we have you here today to talk about birds and eagles in particular. What, what first got you interested in eagles and raptors and that whole world.

Rich Staffen: [00:04:31] Yeah. I think, um, from the bird perspective, when I was in getting my degree in wildlife biology, I spent a summer working in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that was my first kind of initiation to bird work. So I spent the summer, um chasing birds down there and um watching how they nest and how productive they are and nesting down there for a PhD student at the time. And then once I got my position here with the Wisconsin DNR and focusing in the Natural Heritage Inventory realm, I kind of, um, a lot of the work that we do again, is for rare species. So we have several, um, rare, uncommon raptor species that I, um, got to work with, um, including the red shouldered hawk, bald eagles, northern goshawks... so forest raptors... peregrine falcon, um, so several uncommon raptors.

So Irkinda got my feet wet working with some of those, um, rare Raptor species. And then, um, at the time bald eagles were um still federally listed until 2007. So we were, um, tracking how they were doing, of course, and doing the, um, aerial surveys that we still do to this day, which is one of the longest running Eagle surveys in the country.

Katie Grant: [00:05:51] Here in Wisconsin? 

Rich Staffen: [00:05:52] Yeah. It's over 30 years. Um, that's been going on. So it's been going on for a very long time. Um, and we got some great information and have kind of been able to monitor how the population has recovered. So, um, and then kinda got on board with that mostly through the data side of it. Um, keeping track of, um, the records of bald eagles for rare species database. And then in the last, uh, three or five years, kind of getting, um, to do some of the eagle flights as well, eagle and osprey flights in southwestern Wisconsin. So...

Katie Grant: [00:06:27] Very cool. 

Rich Staffen: [00:06:27] It's been really fun. 

Katie Grant: [00:06:28] Yeah. It sounds like it. While we're kind of on the topic, why don't you tell me a little bit about surveys? How do they work? What are you looking for? Um. How do you actually do it? 

Rich Staffen: [00:06:41] Yeah, yeah. Good question. So we, um, so it's been a long running survey, like I said, and it's, we do it, um, via airplane surveys. So we're flying these nests. So, um, we catch, uh, one of our DNR pilots meet them at the airport. They take us up and we'd come up with a route, um, throughout our part of the state.

So I work in southwestern Wisconsin, so we know where the nest that we want to look at are at initially so we come up with a route of which might makes the most sense for, um, how do we should fly it. And then once we approach a nest, we start to look, we have a GPS in the, in the plane, and we kind of know that we're getting closer and closer and then we can start looking for the nest.

We usually do them. Pretty much before the leaves come out on the trees. 

Katie Grant: [00:07:28] So in like early spring. 

Rich Staffen: [00:07:30] Yeah. So usually like March or April, we'll do our flights. This is, these are the activity flights, the first one that we do to see if the nest is active again for that season. And then, yeah, as we're approaching the nest, if it's in a deciduous tree, we can probably see them, um, from like a half mile away.

Um, and we start to get closer and closer and we try to see if the eagles are on the nest. Usually that time of year there'll be incubating eggs, so we'll fly over probably within a couple of hundred feet of the nest and they'll just sit there, hunkerr down. Watch us as we fly over. It doesn't really impact them at all. And we can tell then if the nest is active, if they're incubating, or we look for other signs to know if there might be eggs in the nest that we could see if they're not sitting on them or if they're sitting nearby the birds, the adults, we know that that's probably active. Or we can tell kind of, by the way, the nest looks as well, if it looks like it's been refurbished or, um, updated for the, for that nesting season. Um, and if it's active or not. Or if sometimes a nest is gone and we got to try and find where they move to for that season and see if there's a new nest nearby. 

Katie Grant: [00:08:43] So sometimes they will come back to the same nest again. Other times they'll build a new one?

Rich Staffen: [00:08:47] Um, pretty much they typically will reuse the same nest year after year.

Um, we call it refer, they will refurbish it, so they'll add to it each year, kind of refresh the nest. So they'll add, um, new sticks to it, some new nest lining. Um. Usually about sticks, probably about a foot, almost a foot worth of new sticks each year. 

Katie Grant: [00:09:11] Like deep? 

Rich Staffen: [00:09:12] Um, yep. 

Katie Grant: [00:09:12] Okay. 

Rich Staffen: [00:09:13] Yeah. So add on on top of it. The height would be maybe about an inch or a foot or two added each year.

Yeah, so they can get, the nest can get really large when they continually use them year after year and they can last, unless they get blown out of the tree or fall, the tree falls down or something the nest can last for 10 15, 20 or more years, so they can get very large. 

Katie Grant: [00:09:40] Yeah. Yeah. How big around are they? 

Rich Staffen: [00:09:43] So they usually, when they start out, they're usually about four to five feet in diameter, so across and usually about three or four feet deep from top to bottom. And then, yeah, like I said, they, uh, they'll add onto that nest every year so they can get very large. 

Katie Grant: [00:10:00] Yeah. If you can see them from that far away, I, I would assume that they're pretty large.

Rich Staffen: [00:10:04] Yeah. The tricky part is a lot of the nests, a lot of the nests, um, end up being in conifers like large pine trees, and those ones are kind of well hidden. So when you're doing the surveys, they're a little bit more tricky. 

Katie Grant: [00:10:18] Harder to find.

Rich Staffen: [00:10:18] Difficult to see. Yeah. 

Katie Grant: [00:10:20] Yeah. Where...You mentioned the types of trees. Where geographically kind of are we typically finding these nests? Are they in the middle of forest? Are they near the water? Where, where would they be? 

Rich Staffen: [00:10:33] Yeah, so they are, they're found now pretty much statewide... eagle, eagles are nesting and 71 of our 72 counties in the state, so they're pretty much, you could find one anywhere in Wisconsin.

Katie Grant: [00:10:45] And Milwaukee is the one where we don't have any yet? 

Rich Staffen: [00:10:47] Milwaukee is the last county to have a known eagle nest. 

Katie Grant: [00:10:50] Okay. 

Rich Staffen: [00:10:51] Um, and then, yeah, they're typically near some kind of a water body, so a river or a stream, or a lake or a pond, and they're usually pretty much really close to the water's edge.

So I fly surveys along the Wisconsin River, which is a really good spot for eagles. And almost inevitably they're pretty much right on the edge of the edge of the river. Um, in a large Cottonwood or a large tree right at the edge of the water. And that's where we find them throughout the state, usually pretty close to those water edges.

But we do find them, I mean, we're finding them now in corn fields and ag fields or along just the fence row, a narrow line of trees in the middle of an ag field. Usually there's some kind of a water body somewhat close by, so those are less frequent for sure, but they are showing up in some of those a little bit more isolated spots.

Katie Grant: [00:11:48] How many eggs are normally found in a nest? 

Rich Staffen: [00:11:51] Each year? Yeah, they'll, they'll, uh, they pretty much will nest every year and they only have, we'll have one brood. So, um, if the initial nesting attempt fails, they will not re-nest again that year, but they'll typically lay two to three eggs on, uh, two is the average number of eggs that they usually lay and they can have... so they'll have two or three young in the nest. Typically, though, um, it's very uncommon that they would fledge three young, usually it'd be more like two or even more commonly only one will survive to fledging the nest. Yeah. 

Katie Grant: [00:12:30] Do...I know with some birds, you know, the male is really involved or the female iss really involve, how is it with, with eagles?

Rich Staffen: [00:12:37] Yeah. So um, both, um, both adults, the male and female will help with, um, building the nest, bringing sticks to the nest. Um, and then actually both, um, adults will incubate eggs. Typically it's more the female, uh, she spends much more time incubating the eggs and the ah, a male will go off doing more of the hunting and bringing food back to the nest, but they do both take turns incubating eggs, um, and incubating young as well, um, throughout the nesting cycle.

Katie Grant: [00:13:12] Okay. And one question I, I hadn't really thought about but was asked, uh, via Instagram is how can you tell the difference between a male and a female bald eagle? 

Rich Staffen: [00:13:20] Actually, you really can't tell the difference? There's no, um, uh distinguishing characteristics between the male and the female of bald eagles. You can identify them, um, to age... so they're typically, they don't reach their typical adult plumage until they're five years of age. So they have various, um, plumages, um, through the ages of one through four. And you can identify them based on that. So if a one year old versus a three year old or a four year old. And then at age five is when they get their typical adult plumage with the white head and the white tail and, um, black body.

Katie Grant: [00:14:01] I would say probably the most iconic, if you will, image of an eagle is ah it soaring over the water and kind of diving in to get a fish. 

Rich Staffen: [00:14:10] Yeah. 

Katie Grant: [00:14:10] Obviously they eat fish, correct? 

Rich Staffen: [00:14:12] Yeah, absolutely. 

Katie Grant: [00:14:14] Is that all that they eat or are they, do they eat a lot of different things? And how does that work in the winter when maybe they're the nearest water body is frozen over?

Rich Staffen: [00:14:22] Yeah. Um, so in the summertime, fish makes up a large portion of their diet for sure. But, um, and looking at photos and from people that have climbed nests, um, you'll find all kinds of different critters in there and remains of critters. So certainly fish, various species of fish. We will find turtle shells.

We see, um, carcasses of raccoons, muskrats um, make up a portion of their diet for sure. And then waterfowl to some coots and other smaller ducks as well, usually injured or diseased ones or something like that. They would also prey upon. And then in the winter time, um, certainly they seek out open water areas.

So that's why they congregate near dams and on rivers that remain open. Um, like the the Wisconsin River near Prairie du Sac dam is a notorious or very, um, famous place to see eagles in the wintertime cause the, the dam turns up, the water turns up fish, and it also keeps the river, um, open in that stretch.

So a lot of eagles overwinter there in addition to, um, the protected bluffs, um, in the lower Wisconsin Riverway, um, that provide really good protected, um, roosting locations, um, to escape some of the cold and harsh conditions in the winter time. So they'll eat fish, um, and those open water conditions, but they also will, you'll find them out in ag fields, eating um, some of the remains, um, that farmers put out. And then also they spend a lot of time finding deer carcasses... They might get hit by, um, the deer that get hit by cars or get shot and the hunting season and are never found, um, or die of other causes. Eagles will survive on scavenging carcasses like that.

Katie Grant: [00:16:22] You mentioned overwintering. Do most bald Eagles stay here year round? Do they migrate? If they do migrate, where do they go? 

Rich Staffen: [00:16:32] Yeah, so in southern Wisconsin, a lot of our eagles here will stick around because the conditions are still suitable enough where they can find food. Um, especially when there's a mild winter like this, when there's a lot of open water and they can access fish, um, throughout the winter time, um, some of the birds to our, to our north where the um, conditions are a little bit colder, snowier, icier those birds will, will move south, migrate, but they're short distance migrants, so they will only go as far as they need to go and they'll just go down to southern Wisconsin or just south of, of Wisconsin. Um, and to. um a little bit more favorable weather conditions, so they don't go a long ways um, they'll just go as far as they need to. And so we'll have some of our resident birds stick around, but then we also in southern Wisconsin get birds from the north, northern Wisconsin, the UP, Canada as well that'll come down here and take advantage of our little milder conditions. 

Katie Grant: [00:17:34] Yeah. So you mentioned obviously near dams. Um. What are, what are some good places to look for eagles? 

Rich Staffen: [00:17:43] Yeah, so some of these large river systems, um, with dams, locks and dams like along the Mississippi River is ideal cause it keeps some of the waters open near those, um, dams. Um, the lower Wisconsin, like I said, Prairie du Sac, um, Sauk Prairie area, the dam there, um, is a really good place.

And there's going to be some eagle watching events um focused on some of these, um phenomena where the eagles tend to congregate in the wintertime. So there's one coming up in Sauk Prairie, um, later this month. Um, let me see the dates is actually for the one in Sauk Prairie is January 17th and 18th.

And then there's one um, along the Fox River, there's dams along there that stay open. That one's the following weekend, so January 25th through the 26th. And then there's several along the Mississippi River. The first one is, uh, late February, February 28th and 29th in  Prairie du Chien that's Bald Eagle Appreciation Days.

Um, there's one in Ferryville in early March, and then there's other opportunities up and down the Mississippi River, um, including in Alma where you can get out and, um, see eagles, eagle, eagle viewing. 

Katie Grant: [00:19:05] What is your most memorable eagle experience? 

Rich Staffen: [00:19:08] Um, I would, I would say my first eagle flight was probably my most memorable.

I wasn't sure what to expect. Um, I was out with, um, our former, um, eagle biologist. He was in the front. I was in the back. I wasn't sure how my stomach was going to take, um, flying. Um, so yeah, it was just pretty spectacular to be up in the air. And um spotting these eagles that way. And then I, I, I just, like, I think about, um, flying along the course of some of these rivers, um, some of the smaller rivers where there's eagles nesting in the Driftless area in southwestern Wisconsin where you're in this plane flying low and just um kind of maneuvering along the river. It's just kind of felt surreal and kind of like a, almost like a video game. So it's kinda neat to, yeah, just be up there and, and see the eagles that way. 

Katie Grant: [00:20:01] Beyond being a national symbol, what makes bald eagles so unique?

Rich Staffen: [00:20:07] Yeah, I mean, I think people, I'm always amazed at how, um, into bald eagles, ea... bald eagle watching, seeing body eagles um, people really are, and I think it's because, um, one cause they're so large and they're easily, um, seen and they're ah really easily to identify. So people can get frustrated with trying to identify other hawks or raptors or...

Katie Grant: [00:20:32] A tiny little bird.

Rich Staffen: [00:20:32] Small, yeah, small birds, but eagles are, um, large and, um, really distinct in their plumage and people can pretty easily identify them.

So I think that goes a long way in people's interest in eagles for sure. Um, yeah. 

Katie Grant: [00:20:49] Do you have any bald Eagle fun facts at all? 

Rich Staffen: [00:20:52] Yeah, I do have a few. 

Katie Grant: [00:20:54] I was hoping you would.

Rich Staffen: [00:20:55] So, um, one of the cool things about them is their eyesight. So you've probably heard of "eagle eye." Um, so they actually do have amazing, um, sight, so they can see probably four times as well as an, uh, a human could see.

So if an eagle was sitting, they could see like a running um, rabbit three miles away. So pretty far away. 

Katie Grant: [00:21:21] Wow!

Rich Staffen: [00:21:21] Um, so like a person could never obviously see one that far away. So they have amazing eyesight, as you might suspect, which helps them in capturing prey. 

Katie Grant: [00:21:31] Yeah. 

Rich Staffen: [00:21:31] Um, they can also carry um, um, a remarkable amount of, of weight.

So they, so they usually typically weigh between 10 to 14 pounds themselves, and they can carry something up to a third or half of their body weight. So if they're carrying a stick, they could carry a pretty large stick. Um to build help build their nest, or they could carry a pretty large fish back to the nest.

Um, so that's pretty cool that they could carry something almost as large as they are. 

Katie Grant: [00:22:03] Yeah. I guess if you're building a, a nest that's four feet wide, if all you have is like little tiny two inch sticks, that's gonna take a lot of work... a lot of sticks to get that far. 

Rich Staffen: [00:22:14] Yeah. Yup. 

Yeah. And that reminds me too, that, um, we talked a little bit about how large the nests are, but, uh, we didn't mention, you've probably heard what we thought were wives tales about how large they actually are, how much they weigh, so they actually can weigh a ton, like 2000 pounds or more. So as they add layers on each year, they can get up to a ton or even well over a ton in weight. So, um, being able to carry a stick that's um, a couple pounds actually comes in handy cause they need a large nest to be able to support that weight of them being in the nest and young as well. So...

Katie Grant: [00:22:56] So you guys also told us on Instagram that you wanted to know more about eagle habitat and how you can help support these conservation efforts. So we gave Carly Lapin a call to learn a bit more. 

Carly Lapin: [00:23:07] Um, I work for Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation. Um, I work as a regional ecologist based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, which is in the northcentral part of the state.

Um, and I manage a number of State Natural Areas, um, as well as monitor and research, non-game rare, threatened, and endangered species. 

Katie Grant: [00:23:29] Very cool. What first got you interested in this line of work? 

Carly Lapin: [00:23:35] Um, I think I realized, um, when I was in my late teens that I wanted to have a job that got me outdoors instead of in sitting inside all the time.

And, uh, that's really where it started. And just a passion for conservation and, and trying to take care of our natural heritage, uh, led me to pursue conservation biology and into this line of work. 

Katie Grant: [00:23:58] Very cool. So we're here today to talk about eagles specifically. Um, why don't we just dive right into that so everyone kind of knows that, uh bald eagles were kind of disappearing. How bad was it really, like at the lowest point? 

Carly Lapin: [00:24:17] Um, well, eagles were threatened, um, by a specific pesticide, DDT, uh, which bio-accumulated or, you know, increased in quantity as it moved up the food chain. Um, and thus because eagles are an apex predator, they were, uh, disproportionately affected and it causes thinning of eggshells, um, for for all raptor species, not just for eagles, but basically the, the eggs could no longer support the weight of adults when they were incubating and caused nest failures. Uh, and so when... By the time we had figured out what was causing these declines in population uh, the eagle numbers were down to under 500 pairs, uh, in the lower 48 States.

Katie Grant: [00:25:03] Wow. 

Carly Lapin: [00:25:04] And that was in the early sixties. 

Katie Grant: [00:25:06] All right. How...Do we have a feel for how few were left in Wisconsin around that time? 

Carly Lapin: [00:25:12] Uh, we started monitoring bald eagles in the 1970s in Wisconsin, and our, our lowest record, uh, was 108 pairs. 

Katie Grant: [00:25:21] Okay. And how many do we estimate we have here today? 

Carly Lapin: [00:25:25] Um, in 2019 here in Wisconsin, our annual bald eagle nest survey documented 1,684 occupied nest.

So that's. Um, 1,684 pairs. Um, but there are many more than that in the state on an annual basis, if you include juveniles and sub-adults as well as adult eagles that either don't have a pair or don't have a nesting territory. 

Katie Grant: [00:25:48] Wow. So they've really, really made a comeback here. 

Carly Lapin: [00:25:52] Yeah. They have increased a lot in Wisconsin 

Katie Grant: [00:25:54] And.... Do we expect that number to keep going or are we nearing a point where it's probably going to level off or where we kind of with that? 

Carly Lapin: [00:26:03] Uh, well, we've thought for a number of years now that the numbers would start to level off, but they have continued to increase. Um, and we are expecting them to, yeah level off now at this point. 

Katie Grant: [00:26:14] Okay. How long does a bald eagle tend to live in the wild? 

Carly Lapin: [00:26:19] Um, bald eagles can live up to 30 years in the wild. There have been individuals that have lived longer, um, and they can live longer in captivity, but 30 is, is kind of the consensus for, uh, a long lived, long lived eagle.

Katie Grant: [00:26:36] All right. And so obviously as an apex predator, it's pretty high in the food chain. What is the biggest cause of death for them? 

Carly Lapin: [00:26:43] Um in Wisconsin, our... our natural resource professionals kind of agree that vehicle mortality is the leading cause of eagle death in Wisconsin. And this is, uh, related to, uh, roadkill consumption.

So, uh, they, they in Wisconsin are they scavenge quite a bit and we see them onto deer carcasses frequently. And because they need a lot of space to get off the ground to fly, they tend to fly over the roadway and can easily be hit by cars. 

Katie Grant: [00:27:10] That makes sense. A lot of what you do here for us is actually working to repair eagle habitat at our State Natural Areas. What is kind of the ideal habitat for a bald eagle? 

Carly Lapin: [00:27:22] Um bald eagles are really reliant on their nesting habitat for reproduction, and that consists of large, we call them super-canopy trees, so trees that stick above the tree canopy or are or are taller. Um, and those in proximity to water are important, uh, for nesting eagles.

Katie Grant: [00:27:40] What can we do, for example, in, on those public lands to improve that habitat for them? 

Carly Lapin: [00:27:47] Um, it's, I would say not so much of an improvement of habitat it's just maintaining the habitat that's available, um, and making sure that we're retaining are our large legacy trees. We call them, those super-canopy trees.

Um, and especially protecting any known nests, uh, that, that we've documented 

Katie Grant: [00:28:04] Beyond kind of keeping an eye on those big trees and, um, you know, kind of leaving the nests alone, if you will. Is there anything that residents can do to improve their property, to attract nesting eagles? 

Carly Lapin: [00:28:18] Um, again, we'd like to retrain, retain the trees that they like to use for nesting um to keep their options open and have that habitat be available. Um, it's really important for eagles to avoid disturbing them during the nesting season. Uh, so this is important if you are going to be harvesting trees to not be harvesting trees near a nest during the nesting season. So typically that's late winter through August... July or August. Um, and they can be, you know, very sensitive to disturbance, some pairs more so than others. Um, but if they are disturbed too much, they can actually abandon their nest, um, for the year. So, um, one important thing that I hear about, or,  you know, um, a lot is fireworks during 4th of July can be very disruptive to eagles.

And usually in July, the, the fledglings are large enough that, that they will, you know, will maybe try to fly out of the mass, but aren't able to fly yet. And so they can be injured uh, if they're frightened by fireworks, 

Katie Grant: [00:29:19] We have eagles throughout most of the state, right? Are... are there areas, uh, areas in terms of parts of the state where we have a lot more of them versus fewer in other parts?

Carly Lapin: [00:29:32] Yes. Um, we have the fewest number of nesting eagles in the southeast part of the state, and this is, I think, largely related to higher human population densities and less available habitat in that part of the state. Uh, Milwaukee County is our only county currently where we don't have any documented eagle nests.

Um contrary to that, we have our highest densities of eagles nesting in Oneida and Vilas County, which also happens to be our highest lake density in the state, so that those lakes with forest around them are, are the prime habitat for eagles. And that's where we see our highest numbers as well.

Katie Grant: [00:30:09] Perfect -- that was kinda where I was getting at, was going to be, you know, you would think Milwaukee County, you have the lake right there. You would think that there would be a good likelihood of finding one there, but I guess it makes sense that the, the human population density there would be a good reason for it to not be high in that area.

Carly Lapin: [00:30:30] Yeah. And we actually too, our Great Lakes are not necessarily prime habitat for eagles. Um, they tend to do better on the are smaller lakes. 

Katie Grant: [00:30:40] Okay. 

Carly Lapin: [00:30:41] So for whatever reason, um, we do have nests along Lake Superior as well, and those eagles don't tend to do as well as our inland eagles. It could be weather related or, or potentially they just don't, there's too much area to cover to get food.

Um, so fish resources may not be as readily available um on the big lakes. 

Katie Grant: [00:31:00] That makes sense. How can Wisconsinites get involved in supporting these conservation efforts in the state? 

Carly Lapin: [00:31:07] Um, so in supporting bald eagles in particular, uh, Wisconsinites can get involved by reporting eagle nests. Uh, we do have a way to do this um and in recent years, our citizen scientists have found a number of new nests for our records. Um, so that's one way. Uh, there's also an Adopt An Eagle Nest program where you can make a contribution to the eagle program and in return, you get to, uh, adopt an eagle nest. Uh, we send you a picture of an eagle nest and the location, and so that's a way to support it as well.

Um. More broadly to support the Endangered Resources program or Natural Natural Heritage program, you can donate money to the Endangered Resources Fund either directly or through a text check-off on your  income taxes. And also through the eagle license plate program. Uh, so we do have two license plates that our program, uh, issues that support the work that we do.

Uh, one of them is the wolf plate and one, our new one is the eagle plate. Um, and you can find out more about that on the DNR website by searching "eagle plate." 

Katie Grant: [00:32:16] Perfect. What are the big takeaways from this conservation success story, and how can we apply those to other conservation work that we're doing here at the DNR, or maybe even that, for example, US Fish and Wildlife Service is doing at the higher level, or maybe even smaller groups are doing on the local level?

Carly Lapin: [00:32:36] Sure. Um, so I mean, eagles are one of the big success stories in the history of conservation in our country. Um, and I think for me the big takeaways are that, um, the threat to eagles was largely one specific cause and the use of DDT. And once we had identified that, it was pretty easy to reverse the impacts by removing the use of that contaminant in our day to day lives.

Um, I mean, that's an important takeaway because in my experience, most of our at-risk species are not threatened by one specific identifiable thing. It's often many different factors and they can be hard to identify and parse out, and in many cases, even harder to address. Um, so I think, you know, identifying the things that are easy to change and that are easy to identify as important, um, and addressing, you know, kind of a lower hanging fruit in many of these cases.

Uh, is an important takeaway from this experience. 

Katie Grant: [00:33:39] Can't get enough eagles facts and want even more? Visit dnr.wi.gov and search "bald eagle" for Wisconsin-specific facts, eagle watching events and details about the Endangered Resources Fund, eagle license plates and more. 

Have a question you'd like to hear answered by one of our experts on a future episode? Email us -- DNRpodcast@wisconsin.gov. 

Thanks for listening.

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