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Doug Leier, Published February 26 2013

Leier: Bald eagle population down from a year ago

Fargo - Penning an outdoors column each week may seem daunting to some, but even with 52 opportunities in a given calendar year to generate topics and information to pass along, at times I actually wish I had more time and room.

Here’s a few items of recent interest.

Game and Fish Department biologists conducted the 2013 mid-winter bald eagle survey along the Missouri River and counted 61 bald eagles. This number is slightly above average since the survey started in 1986, but was well below the 108 counted in 2012. Conversely, 44 were counted in 2011.

Patrick Isakson, conservation biologist with the Game and Fish Department, said the survey route from Bismarck to the Garrison Dam is conducted at the same time each year and in coordination with other surveys nationwide.

“Conducting the surveys close to the same day throughout the nation reduces the number of eagles that may be counted by other surveys, as eagles tend to move around,” Isakson said.

The Missouri River from below Garrison Dam to about Bismarck still held large numbers of waterfowl in early January, and that’s why the eagles were hanging around, as ducks and geese are an important food source during winter. The numbers can change significantly in just a few days if severe winter weather moves in and forces the waterfowl southward, Isakson said.

Eagles are relatively easy to spot, as they prefer to perch in large cottonwood trees along the river. Adult bald eagles have a white head and tail and a dark brown body, while immature bald eagles are brown with irregular white plumage. Golden eagles, which are also counted, are dark in color and have a gold cap on their head.

Moving on, North Dakota citizens with an interest in supporting wildlife conservation programs are reminded to look for the Watchable Wildlife check-off on the state tax form.

The 2012 state income tax form gives wildlife enthusiasts an opportunity to support nongame wildlife like songbirds and birds of prey such as eagles, while at the same time contributing to programs that help everyone enjoy all wildlife.

The check-off – whether you are receiving a refund or having to pay in – is an easy way to voluntarily contribute to sustain this long-standing program. In addition, direct donations to the program are accepted any time of year.

One last note, while ice fishing and fishing itself never closes in North Dakota, March 15 is the deadline for removing permanent fish houses from state waters. Anglers can continue to use shelters after March 15, but they must be removed from the ice daily.

And lastly, winter so far hasn’t been too hard on resident wildlife like pheasants and deer. We’re not out of the woods yet, and some parts of the state have had more snow than others, but with spring in sight, people are starting to smile a little wider.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com