Desert bald eagles nesting in Arizona produced a record number of young this year, thanks to streams full of fish and the protective efforts of nest watchers statewide.
Some 56 bald eagles built nests this year. They produced 57 young, up 7 percent from last year. But the big gain was in the chicks that lived long enough to take flight from the nests — a record 53. That represents a 26 percent increase from the year before.
Many of the nests benefited from the attention of nest watchers, paid by the state to camp out near the nests. The nest watchers keep people away from the nests and call in biologists if the chicks get into trouble. Many of the nests are in Rim Country.
Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is still trying to decide whether to continue listing the desert nesting bald eagles as endangered, after taking the birds off the endangered list nationally. Environmental organizations forced the reconsideration with a lawsuit, saying the desert eagles are smaller, vulnerable and don’t interbreed with other eagles that migrate through. The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s nest watch program is mostly funded by endangered species money and involves a coalition of 23 different organizations and entities.
The wet winter and abundant spring runoff may have contributed to the record number of fledglings, since most of the eagle nests are located on cliffs and dead snags along riparian areas. The eagles fish in the riffles of streams and rivers and also eat dead fish and carrion.
They generally mate for life and nest from December through June, with the same pair usually returning to the same nest site year after year.