Arizona’s unique population of bald eagles this year produced a record 52 babies that survived long enough to take flight, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has announced.
By the end of the 2012 breeding season, bald eagles set two new records for the number of breeding areas identified and the number of eggs laid.
In Arizona, a record 66 pairs of eagles laid at least 80 eggs. That included four breeding areas occupied for the first time.
For only the third time, the number of nestlings that fledged exceeded 50 with 52 young birds making it to the important milestone of their first flight. The eagles’ productivity records year after year indicate that bald eagles continue to flourish in the state.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed bald eagles in Arizona from the federal Endangered Species list in 2011.
“Seeing the continual year-after-year growth of the bald eagle breeding population in Arizona is extremely gratifying and a success story for all of the partners involved in intensely managing the species,” said Kenneth Jacobson, Arizona Game and Fish Department bald eagle management coordinator.
“The Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee’s years of cooperative conservation efforts, including extensive monitoring by the Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program, continue to pay off and help this population grow.” Continued support from the committee, state wildlife grants and the Heritage Fund, generated from lottery ticket sales, will help ensure that Arizona’s bald eagles continue breaking records. Bald eagle management falls under the watch of the Arizona Game and Fish Department and a coalition of 25 other partners — through the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee — including government agencies, private organizations and Native American nations.
The latest figures come after a bone-dry spring throughout the state that had worried some eagle advocates about whether they would have a good year. However, in some ways the low water years might actually benefit the eagles by reducing stream flows and making it easier for the eagles to spot the fish on which they depend, especially when they have young in the nest.
The latest reproduction figures demonstrate that so far the eagles haven’t suffered from the recent delisting, despite fears of some biologists.
Several environmental groups have sued repeatedly attempting to overturn that decision. They maintain that the eagles in Arizona represent a distinct population that fills in a gap in the range of the birds nationwide, since evidence suggests eagles migrating through the region don’t stop to set up nesting territories. The “Desert Nesting” Arizona bald eagles are a little smaller, breed earlier and have a greater range of preferred nest sites than eagles elsewhere, although they’re virtually indistinguishable genetically.
The lawsuits also claimed that the Arizona eagles remain sacred to many Native American tribes in the state and therefore constitute a vulnerable subpopulation that merits continued protection.
The lawsuits contesting the decision to delist the Arizona eagles feared that the federal government would cut back funding for things like the Game and Fish nestwatch program.
Moreover, the delisting removes one legal tool for protecting the eagles’ critical habitat, which includes most of the Gila, Verde and Salt rivers.
However, several federal judges have rejected those claims.
The breeding season for bald eagles in Arizona typically runs from December through June, although a few bald eagle pairs at higher elevations nest later than those in the rest of the state.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department, a leading partner in recovery efforts for the species, attributes the success to cooperative on-the-ground management, including monitoring and survey flights; seasonal closures of critical breeding habitat during the breeding season; eagle rescue efforts; contaminants analysis and a nestwatch program to protect breeding activities.