The bald eagle population in Oklahoma is soaring, not just with the seasonal influx of the wintering eagles, but the number of breeding pairs continues to rise each year.
When the bald eagle was added to the federal list of endangered species in Oklahoma in 1978, there were no breeding eagles in our state and only about 1,000 breeding pairs in all of the lower 48 states. However, as of 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 15,000 pairs are nesting in the lower 48 states and about the same number in Alaska! (read the whole report)
The Sutton Center’s eight year long (1985-1992) effort to reintroduce the bald eagle as a nesting bird in Oklahoma has paid off with a healthy breeding population in the state. According the the retired bald eagle expert at the Sutton Avian Research Center, Alan Jenkins, Oklahoma can now boast of over 120 breeding pairs!
But the breeding birds are only a small fraction of the entire winter population. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation estimates that 800-2,000 eagles may winter in Oklahoma, with higher numbers occuring during winters when conditions are harsh in Canada and the northern states. In fact, Oklahoma is consistently among the top 10 states for numbers of bald eagles. The open water, plentiful food, and milder temperatures found at our lakes and rivers make Oklahoma especially attractive to these majestic birds.
The total bald eagle population has increased throughout its range and consequently the Bald Eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007. The Bald Eagle is one of the few concrete examples of a species recovering after being placed on the endangered species list. The Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle is still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
To see Oklahoma’s wintering eagles, you can go to a variety of lakes, many of which have specially scheduled Eagle Watch days. Here are just a few events this winter:
- Kaw Lake – “The Ultimate Eagle Watch” January 2st
- Lake Thunderbird – Dec 10 & 17, Jan 6 & 20, Feb 4 & 18 (free, but reservation required – 405-321-4633)
- Top 10 Places for Eagle Watching in Oklahoma
Or from the comfort of your own home, you can spy on an eagle nest through this eagle cam in Decorah, Iowa.