KDWP Expands Three-year Research Study of Bald Eagles in Kansas
PRATT – In the spring of 2021, a research study on the ecology of Kansas-hatched bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) began with just 13 birds and plans of field work lasting three years. This year – thanks to voluntary contributions made to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Park’s nongame species donation program, Chickadee Checkoff – that research project has been extended; and, the total number of birds studied has increased to nearly 30 bald eagles.
KDWP and a team of partners from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Conservation Science Global, Evergy, and private landowners are confident data derived from the study will help wildlife managers and developers better address potential conflicts between bald eagles and development infrastructure, as well as further the scientific community’s understanding of bald eagle ecology in the central Great Plains.
Research on Kansas bald eagle populations began in 1989 with the first contemporary documentation of an active bald eagle nest at Clinton Reservoir in Douglas County. Since then, approximately 299 nesting territories have been reported to the USFWS and Kansas Biological Survey. And, new nesting territories are reported each winter and spring, indicating good population prospects for the species in Kansas.
“For 34 years, conservationists have done outstanding work documenting breeding activity and population expansion across the state,” said KDWP terrestrial ecologist Zac Eddy. “Having said that, little-to-no research has been completed on the ecology of the species. So, we still know very little about eaglet survival, seasonal range size, landscape and airspace use, and response to anthropogenic development or man-made structures in our state. With this research study, we aim to change that.”
Most recently, researchers affixed identification bands and GPS telemetry backpacks on an additional 15 bald eagle nestlings hatched this year in Barton, Stafford, Kingman, Reno, Chase, Morris, Geary, and Pottawatomie counties. The process to complete this field work includes:
- Identifying successful nests, which will have eaglets aged 7 to 9 weeks old at the time of capture. Nests are accessed by experienced tree climbers or by use of bucket trucks.
- Capturing the eaglets in their nests and lowering them to the ground.
- Taking morphometric measurements – or measurements of the bird’s size, shape, and length – to estimate age and sex of the birds
- Attaching identifying leg bands to each leg
- Obtaining blood and feather samples for genetic and environmental contaminant testing
- And, fitting GPS telemetry backpacks to each bird before returning them to their nests.
The GPS telemetry units – powered by onboard solar panels and lithium-ion batteries – began collecting data as soon as the nestlings left their natal nests.
“The units collect timestamped data points documenting location, altitude, heading, and speed at intervals of 3-5 seconds in flight and 15 minutes at roost,” added Eddy.
Continued data collection will offer researchers a robust assessment of juvenile eagles’ seasonal ranges and airspace use in the context of topography, weather, land cover, and energy infrastructure, while potentially allowing conservationists to document their movements from the time of fledging through establishing nesting territories of their own.
For information on how you can support Chickadee Checkoff and research projects like this, visit chickadeecheckoff.com.
For more on other protected species in Kansas, visit ksoutdoors.com/Wildlife-Habitats/Wildlife-Conservation.