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January 4, 2010

S.C. bald eagle numbers continue to increase

The bald eagle population in South Carolina continues to increase, according to Midwinter Eagle Survey results from January 2009.

Midwinter Eagle Survey participants recorded 652 bald eagles, which included 563 adult bald eagles, 84 immature bald eagles and five of unknown age. This figure was up from the 2008 year's tally of 601. Some 93 percent of the adult eagles counted during the survey were nesting pairs, meaning they are resident breeders in South Carolina. The nesting population in South Carolina has been increasing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coordinates the national Midwinter Eagle Survey, which is entering its 32th consecutive year with surveys running between Dec. 30 and Jan. 13, 2010. The objective of the survey is to monitor the status of bald eagle wintering populations in the contiguous United States by estimating national and regional count trends. South Carolina has 44 different routes that are located throughout the state but focused on the large lakes and river systems.

Each state organizes volunteers to conduct surveys and site-specific summaries of bald eagle observations. South Carolina's survey efforts are the product of the efforts of many individuals, bird clubs, as well as state and federal agencies. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) coordinates the count but relies heavily on volunteers to run routes and count adult and juvenile bald eagles. "Some of these routes have been run by the same group of individuals since the survey started," said Laurel Barnhill, DNR wildlife biologist and statewide bird conservation coordinator. "We truly appreciate their dedication to the species. DNR would not be able collect this data without their help."

In 2009, 135 participants traversed by vehicle, boat and air more than 1,500 miles of standardized survey routes. The survey uses standard non-overlapping survey routes where the same route is run each year to identify a trend for the state and nation.

"The 2010 survey is a big year as trends are updated every five years," said Barnhill. "From previous year's data sheets it looks like bald eagle numbers continue to increase in South Carolina; this means our recovery efforts have been successful.
           
The Midwinter Eagle Survey was initiated in 1979 to index the recovery of bald eagles, which were then federally listed as endangered. In 2007, the bald eagle was delisted from the Endangered Species Act. However, the bald eagle still receives protection under the Federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, as well as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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