Bald Eagle Numbers Doing Well Despite Low Brackendale Count

Wildlife News

Ian Austin, The Vancouver Province

Published: Thursday, January 10, 2008

B.C.'s bald eagles are in fine shape, despite disappointing results at the annual Brackendale Bald Eagle Count.

Volunteers out in the snow last Sunday counted just 893 eagles -- the lowest tally since 1990 -- but B.C.'s top bird expert says the species is in fine shape.

"The North American eagle population is burgeoning," said Myke Chutter, provincial bird specialist with the Environment Ministry. "From 1980 to 2004, the number of bald eagles increased from 70,000 to 300,000 in North America, and from 28,500 to 60,000 in B.C."

An eagle count at Goldstream Park recently found healthy numbers of eagles, and most of the Brackendale volunteers attributed the low numbers to a poor salmon run.

"Eagles go where there's food," said Chutter. "That doesn't mean their numbers are down."

Bald eagles were recently removed from the endangered species list in the U.S., and Chutter said the birds' rebound is attributable to both environmental science and changing public attitudes.

"A lot of the problem was DDT, but before ranchers would shoot eagles," he said. "Now we've gotten rid of DDT, and people revere the birds."

"From my understanding, there's absolutely no concern for the general population."

The pesticide DDT altered the birds' calcium metabolism, causing thin eggshells that broke before a chick was mature, threatening the big birds with extinction.

Simon Fraser University wildlife biologist Alton Harestad also said one low count is no cause for concern.

"The important thing to know about eagles, and wildlife, is that the numbers fluctuate from year to year, especially if you stay in one spot," said Harestad.

"If there are fewer salmon, they might go to another salmon run, they'll eat on a dead deer, they eat ducks, they'll eat off carcasses."

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