The Illinois bald eagle population count is up from last year but still lower along a portion of the Mississippi River, according to a recent survey.
Wildlife biologist Kelly McKay has been counting bald eagles for the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Count for 24 years. He said he is responsible for a nearly 81 mile stretch along the Mississippi river from Fulton to Keithsburg.
McKay counted 957 bald eagles along his route between Illinois and Iowa, with 544 of those belonging to Illinois. McKay reported 2016 was his second lowest count at 376 for Illinois which is drastically lower than the 2014 count of 1,635.
McKay said plenty of factors – weather, ice cover on the river and food supply – can cause the count to vary from year to year. He also indicated that more bald eagles may be moving inland where survey counters do not cover.
“Depending on the weather conditions on any given year regionally and what the ice conditions are on the river is going to dictate where eagles numbers are,” McKay said. “So just because I had a poor year, maybe that means more eagles are up north or down south.”
The Midwinter Bald Eagle Count is submitted to the state and added to a national count. While McKay’s section of the count was lower, the overall Illinois bald eagle count was up from last year, totaling 2,002.
“It’s really the only program out there that monitors long term bald eagle populations over the entire the contiguous 48 states,” McKay said.
The bald eagle has made a remarkable population recovery. Previously listed as endangered, and then threatened, the bird was taken off the list entirely in 2007. The 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act still protects the national bird.
–Illinois News Network