Oneida, Vilas Counties Hotspots for Bald Eagle Recovery

Sep 2, 2014

It’s no longer uncommon to see a bald eagle in the Northwoods. 

Credit Michele Woodford / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Oneida and Vilas counties have the highest number of pairs of bald eagles in Wisconsin, according to the most recent DNR survey in 2013.

After disappearing from most areas of the state in the mid-20th century, there are now more than 1300 pairs of eagles in Wisconsin. 

Ron Eckstein, a retired DNR Wildlife Biologist, worked on eagle conservation efforts for more than 25 years.  WXPR’s Natalie Jablonski spoke with Eckstein to hear more about bald eagle success story.

Eagles have rebounded over the past 25 years after being nearly wiped out.  Pesticides containing DDT were a major culprit in their decline…causing eagles to lay thin-shelled eggs that wouldn’t hatch. 

Retired DNR Wildlife Biologist Ron Eckstein says one reason eagles are doing especially well in the Northwoods…is that they never disappeared completely, like they did in other parts of the state. 

“It was lack of use of the pesticides in our area.  They were widely used in the 50s and 60s and throughout agricultural regions, somewhat for forestry but not much for forestry.”

He says the remoteness of the area also prevented too many people from shooting at eagles. 

Eckstein says in Northcentral Wisconsin, bald eagles have nearly reached their carrying capacity, with only a few new pairs of eagles being identified each year.  But he says they remain an important population to study. 

“What we’re doing with eagles is they’ll continue to be a biosentinel.  They’re long-lived birds, they eat fish – so they’ll continue similar to loons –if the eagles are doing well on our lakes,  that means the lakes are doing well also.´

Ospreys haven’t done quite as well as eagles…but Eckstein says that’s because the two species compete with one another.  There are only about 500 pairs of ospreys in the state, compared to over 1300 pairs of bald eagles.

Ron Eckstein will be talking more about eagles Wednesday night at the informal science discussion Science on Tap, at the Minocqua Brewing Company.