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Hundreds of eagles counted in mid-winter survey in Powder River Basin

GILLETTE, Wyo. – Over 450 eagles were recently counted along 1,500 miles of public roads across the Powder River Basin, according to the Bureau of Land Management. 

In early January, 90 volunteers counted 461 eagles as a part of the Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey, a nationwide effort undertaken and coordinated locally by the Buffalo Field Office to count bald and golden eagles, BLM said in a Feb. 10 release. 

The survey effort first began in 1979 as a way to identify wintering habitat and develop a population index for the struggling eagle population in the lower 48 states, BLM says, adding that collecting eagle data over the long term has allowed analyses of population trends that help to monitor the overall health of the species. 

“The information gathered by the survey is used by wildlife researchers and managers nationwide and is valuable on the local level as well,” BLM says. “The data collected helps the BLM to determine important habitats within the Buffalo Field Office, which consists of Campbell, Johnson, and Sheridan counties.”

This year, per BLM, volunteers counted 296 bald eagles, 141 golden eagles, and 4 eagles of undetermined species, a slight decrease from last year’s high of 572 eagles total. Despite the decline, however, this year’s total still falls within the annual average count of approximately 400 to 500 eagles. 

During this year’s survey, volunteers noted that eagles were not in locations they typically frequent and that ravens and crows along the route appeared to be fewer in number as well. 

Charlotte Darlin, BLM survey coordinator, the milder weather the day of the survey may have led to birds foraging farther away from the main roads, resulting in fewer observations. 

According to BLM, more golden eagles remain in the Powder River Basin to breed than bald eagles, with few of the latter actually nesting in the area. Additional winter populations migrate north in February, March, and April to return to Canada and Alaska.