Stillaguamish Tribe keeps an eye on eagles

ARLINGTON (March 19, 2008) – Breeding bald eagles often construct alternate nests in trees within a mile of the original. In Snohomish County, a pair of eagles seemed especially fond of the cottonwood housing their original nest, because they built their second nest in the same tree, 20 feet above the first.

“They haven’t laid eggs in the new nest yet,” said Robbie Hutton, fish and wildlife technician for the Stillaguamish Tribe, spotting the pair of eagles sitting side by side atop a nearby conifer. “But it looks like they might soon.”

The tribe is mapping eagle nests within the Stillaguamish watershed, noting which are active. Hutton expects that during a future visit, she will see the eagles on the double-decker nest incubating their eggs.

Eagles tend to use the same nest year after year, continually adding to it. Sometimes they use an alternate nest nearby for a few seasons, then return to the original.

“This is the first double-decker nest we’ve seen,” said Jennifer Sevigny, wildlife biologist for the Stillaguamish Tribe. “Local populations of eagles seem to be increasing, but they’re limited in their nesting opportunities based on the availability of suitable trees. We have a noticeable shortage of large cottonwoods in the lowlands of the Stillaguamish.”

The Stillaguamish Tribe shares the survey information with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), which keeps a database of the locations of eagle nests and roosting areas. The database helps ensure that the nests are not disturbed. Permitting agencies are notified when a landowner is planning a project close to an active nest.

“We are going to continue to partner with the state to monitor eagle nests and communal winter roosts in the Stillaguamish watershed,” Sevigny said. “We need current data to address potential habitat loss issues associated with forest practice applications. We need to protect known critical habitat and enhance it by providing suitable nesting trees when possible.”

In June 2007, the once-depleted bald eagle population in the lower 48 states had recovered enough to be removed from the federal Endangered Species Act list. The national symbol still is protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibit interfering with their breeding.

Fast Facts: Bald Eagles

Juvenile bald eagles are almost solid brown. Their heads turn white as they mature at about 4 years old.

Breeding pairs of eagles add to their nests each year. Sometimes the nest can get too heavy for the tree. Nests have been recorded as large as 20 feet deep, 10 feet wide and weighing two tons.

The bald eagle first gained federal protection in 1940, under what later became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Bald eagles were among the first species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act when it was enacted in 1973.

After World War II, eagle populations declined because widespread exposure to the pesticide DDT caused them to lay eggs with weakened shells.

In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to only 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles. When they were removed from the federal Endangered Species Act list in June 2007, there were a reported 10,000 nesting pairs.

For more information, contact: Jennifer Sevigny, wildlife biologist, Stillaguamish Tribe, at 360-435-2755 or [email protected]; or Kari Neumeyer, information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, at 360-424-8226 or [email protected].