Story by: Renee Torzala
Move to the suburbs? Not these fine-feathered friends! Becoming an urbanite is where it’s at for many bald eagles in the Fox Valley today. More and more eagles are choosing to build their nest in the city rather than rural or nature areas.
So, why this new trend? Many have speculated that it is due to today’s cleaner urban rivers and lakes. Some biologists suggest that the eagles are also increasing their tolerance for human activity.
“Concentrations of eagles have always been found near dams and rivers because the water doesn’t freeze during winter months, providing a good source of food – fish!” said DNR wildlife biologist Dick Nikolai. “As the water quality improves, the survival rate of eagles and all waterfowl increases,” he explained.
Today, eagle sightings are common along the Fox River. With a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet, their magestic appearance is awe-inspiring and garners a lot of attention by curious onlookers.
Nikolai knows of at least 7 or 8 urban eagle nests throughout the Fox Cities. This number keeps growing each year, and the phenomena has spurred a new interest in wildlife in our own backyards.
“It is wonderful that people have shown more interest in eagles and wildlife. We just need to be careful that we respect their habitat and surroundings, even if it is outside our own back door,” he said.
Eagles do become tolerant of the hustle and bustle, but they can also be disturbed by humans that try to get too close. “Even walking under the tree of an active nest could cause the eagle to abandon its young,” Nikolai said. “If we want to continue to enjoy the eagles’ presence, we must be respectful to their homes.”
One way that residents can get involved is through the Eagle Monitoring Project. The program was launched in 2009 by Cheryl Root and Brian Ewart, founders of Northeast Wisconsin Alliance, Inc. (NEW Alliance). The purpose of the citizen and science-based project is to acquire information about eagle numbers, as well as nesting, roosting and feeding sites. The information is analyzed by the DNR to help determine eagle population numbers and guide habitat protection decisions.
“On a designated day five times each winter, one or more volunteers arrives before daybreak at each of the 25 monitoring sites along the Lower Fox River,” said Root. “From one-half hour before daybreak until 90 minutes after, we record detailed information about the bald eagles, golden eagles and other birds that we see.”
Currently, 50 people are involved in the eagle monitoring project, ranging in age from 10 to over 80. Since the start of the program in 2009, over 100 people have participated.
The Citizen-based Monitoring Network of Wisconsin was formed by the DNR in 2004 to help organizations and programs like NEW Alliance advance their volunteer monitoring programs. Alternative programs also include collecting data for sandhill cranes, frogs, owls, hawks mussels and more.
Root and Nikolai are encouraged by the growing interest among citizens in the protection and restoration of our natural resources. “I would like to see an increase in programs that focus on what we can do in our urban areas for wildlife and birds in general,” said Root. “Anybody can do this, and the more people get involved, the more they will help protect the wildlife around us,” she said.
For more information about the Eagle Monitoring Project, go to:New Alliance
To learn about the Citizen-based Monitoring Network of Wisconsin, go to: wiatri