For Immediate Release - January 17, 2012

Wildlife Officials and Volunteers Spot 26 Bald Eagles During Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey

BOSTON – Friday, January 13, 2012 – Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan Jr. today announced that an annual survey of wintering bald eagles conducted throughout the Commonwealth today yielded sightings of 26 individual birds.

The low survey numbers, relative to prior years, are due to low visibility stemming from weather conditions.

Between 40 and 50 state and federal wildlife officials and volunteers observed birds through binoculars and spotting scopes on the ground during the one-day event, which is part of a national survey. State data are pooled with national data and used by wildlife officials to track the progress of the recovery of the bald eagle, which was taken off the federal list of endangered and threatened species in 2007.

The 2012 preliminary statewide number is 108 eagles, with 94 adults and 14 juveniles.

“The resurgence of the bald eagle here in Massachusetts is a restoration success story that is the culmination of efforts that started over 30 years ago,” said Secretary Sullivan. “This annual survey and other year-round efforts by biologists and volunteers have helped to protect these national symbols and their habitat.” 

The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) has taken part in the national survey since its inception in 1980. By collecting leg band data on the birds, MassWildlife has documented that eagles wintering in Massachusetts include Bay State natives and birds hailing from Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“Thanks to the help of volunteers, staff and conservationists, we’re able to gather vital information to help our biologists monitor and to study these birds gain knowledge about their habitat preferences, mortality rates and biology,” said DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin, who assisted wildlife officials with the count in Lakeville today.

There were 2 adult and eagles spotted on the Merrimack River and 2 adult eagles and a juvenile at the Wachusett Reservoir. Eagles were also spotted in Fall River, Carver, Plymouth, Sandisfield, Pittsfield, and the Lakeville/Middleborough area. Officials and volunteers traveled to a number of known eagle locations across the state, from Newburyport to Pittsfield, during the event.

Statewide, the number of birds surveyed has trended upward from eight birds counted in 1980 to 71 birds counted this year. There were a record number of 107 birds spotted last year and 72 birds spotted in 2010 during one-day surveys.

In the 1980s, wildlife biologists worked to restore a breeding population to Massachusetts with the first successful nesting in 1989. Since 1989, 413 chicks have fledged – birds that hatched and survived to fly from Massachusetts nests.

The annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey is a nationwide event coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Each year, the number of states participating ranges from 25 to 41 states, according to the USGS. The nationwide total of bald eagles counted during this annual event ranges from 13,000 to 16,000 birds.

The annual count provides wildlife managers with information on local eagle populations, helps officials identify and monitor critical wintering areas, and fosters public interest in bald eagles and their conservation.

In 2011, there were 36 pairs of bald eagle pairs located in breeding territories across the state including the Quabbin Reservoir, Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers, and areas in Plymouth, Bristol, Berkshire, Middlesex, and Worcester Counties. Also that year, 29 eagle nests produced 37 chicks which successfully survived to fledge.

A victim of habitat loss and reproductive failure linked to exposure to pesticides such as DDT, bald eagle populations plummeted across the country by the time they were placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1973. Their numbers have since rebounded and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) removed them from the federal list in July 2007.

Eagle restoration efforts have been funded over the years by a combination of public and private sources including DFG, USFW, the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Fund, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, National Grid, and the former Bank of Boston.

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