Volunteers count 436 eagles in the Powder River Basin during midwinter survey


BLM Wyoming

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Buffalo Field Office

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Buffalo, Wyo. – Ninety volunteers spent the morning of Jan. 6 searching for bald and golden eagles across the Powder River Basin, counting 436 eagles along more than 1,500 miles of public roads. Their efforts were part of the nationwide Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey coordinated locally by the Bureau of Land Management Buffalo Field Office. 

Volunteers this year counted 279 bald eagles, 118 golden eagles, and 39 eagles of undetermined species, a slight decrease from the 461 birds counted last year. Despite the decline, this year’s total falls within the average count of 400 to 500 eagles seen annually. A record high of 576 eagles were counted in 2022. 

Observers documented fewer large concentrations of eagles at several roost sites. Conversely, some survey routes counted more eagles than usual, suggesting that the birds may have been more widely spread across the basin. Many observers also noted less roadkill than in previous years, which is a common food source for eagles in the area. Additionally, the mild weather throughout December likely contributed to the decreased count.

Every year, volunteer support makes the midwinter survey a success. Many of the volunteers participate annually, and some have participated for more than a decade. Despite seeing fewer eagles, volunteers enjoyed the survey day. Many noted that it was a beautiful, crisp morning with clear skies and a fresh layer of light snow.

“We have volunteers of all ages who look forward to the survey every year,” says Charlotte Darling, survey coordinator and rangeland management specialist in the Buffalo Field Office. “It’s great to see how much enjoyment they get from participating. We would not be able to collect this data every year without them.”

While hundreds of bald eagles are seen in the basin during winter, only a few of them nest in the area. Greater numbers of golden eagles remain in the Powder River Basin to breed. The additional winter populations migrate north in February, March, and April, returning to Canada and Alaska. The information gathered by the survey is used by wildlife researchers and managers nationwide and is valuable on the local level as well. In the Buffalo Field Office, the data collected helps the BLM determine important habitats in Campbell, Johnson, and Sheridan counties. 

The national Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey effort began in 1979 as an effort to identify wintering habitat and develop a population index for the struggling eagle population in the lower 48 states. Collecting eagle data over the long-term has allowed analyses of population trends that help monitor the overall health of the species. 

Other regions of the state also participate in this annual survey. Wildlife professionals from the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service help coordinate local surveys across Wyoming. 

To learn more about the national program, visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bird Initiative website at https://corpslakes.erdc.dren.mil/employees/bird/midwinter.cfm.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska, on behalf of the American people. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.