MILWAUKEE — The Wisconsin DNR ground its annual bald eagle count to a halt last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic - the first time the survey was not carried out since it started nearly 50 years ago.
Program Director Jim Woodford tells TMJ4 News that in a typical year, bald eagle nests are surveyed in the spring. But because of the pandemic surging across the country, the DNR decided to postpone most of the survey, with the exception of a few targeted surveys carried out in June. The broad survey was not deemed essential during the survey period of March, April and May of 2020.
Now, the DNR hopes to continue the program this spring, with new COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
The bald eagle survey has been conducted every year since the program's founding in 1973, Woodford says - 47 consecutive years. 2020 was the first year the count has been canceled.
This is how the survey is conducted. Each spring, the DNR carries out low-altitude flights March through mid-May to locate nests occupied by adult bald eagles. That effort is assisted by people on the ground, including landowners, birders, volunteers and raptor banders, to verify data harvested from the sky.
It takes about 140 hours of flight to survey the whole state, Woodford tells us, starting in southeastern Wisconsin in March and moving into northern Wisconsin by early May.
When the survey started in 1973, the DNR counted 108 active nests in the state. As of 2019 - they counted 1,684 active nests.
There are some ways you can help the DNR count eagle nests this year. Woodford says you can contact the Wisconsin DNR with locations of suspected new eagle nests, especially in southeastern Wisconsin. You can also buy an eagle license plate for your vehicle or make a donation to the Endangered Resources fund. Portions of the donations are used to support the annual surveys and for other conservation activities to protect bald eagle nests, according to Woodford.