2018-01-11 / Life in Leelanau

Eagle population on the up and up

By Jennie Berkson
Of The Enterprise staff


AN EAGLE makes a valiant attempt to fly above the crowd at a New Year’s Day eagle release at Glen Lake Community Schools. 
Photo: Shannon Scott AN EAGLE makes a valiant attempt to fly above the crowd at a New Year’s Day eagle release at Glen Lake Community Schools. Photo: Shannon Scott The significant community attendance at the Wings of Wonder bald eagle release on New Year’s Day made it clear that folks in Leelanau County are excited to see the living incarnation of our national emblem up close and personal.

Luckily, the possibility of viewing these majestic animals is not such a rarity anymore.

“Their numbers are increasing,” said Jerry Weinrich, retired wildlife biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources who continues to conduct annual aerial counts of bald eagles in the state. “In 1976, there were less than 30 pairs in the whole Lower Peninsula.”

Since that time, hunting of bald eagles was prohibited and the use of DDT and other pesticides which were found to be harmful to eagles and other birds was restricted. Those legal changes have had a significant impact on the bald eagle population.

“Last year, there were 638 pairs in the Lower Peninsula, an increase of 50,” Weinrich said. “We found 19 in Leelanau County alone.”

Leelanau County is a particularly good habitat for bald eagles, he said, because it is not only surrounded by a large body of water but also has large interior lakes.

“Most of the 19 pairs identified in 2017 were either found along the Lake Michigan shoreline or right on north and south Lake Leelanau,” he said.

Last year Weinrich identified a new nest “back in the swamp” on the east side of Lake Leelanau, but said the DNR does not like to reveal the specific location of nests because it doesn’t want the birds disturbed.

Some nests are more visible than others. One is located near the Clay Cliffs, the natural area north of Leland preserved by the Leelanau Conservancy in partnership with Leland Township.

At this time of year, however, one does not have to find nests to see the eagles.

Rebecca Lessard, director of Wings of Wonder, the area’s raptor rescue and rehabilitation organization, said one place many bald eagles gather is Glen’s Landfill in Maple City.

“It’s a popular gathering place for young and adult bald eagles,” she said.

Weinrich confirmed eagles can be seen in the wintertime anywhere there is a food source.

“They can stay in this area in the winter because they are resourceful about where they get their food,” she said.

This could be from any open water areas, landfills, roadkill or even from someone ice fishing who leaves their catch unattended.

Although one may be able to see bald eagles on the road if they find something to eat there, Lessard said it’s also one of the reasons the birds end up needing to be rehabilitated by her organization.

“They don’t move very quickly and can get hit by a car.”

When Lessard’s initial attempt to release the rehabilitated bald eagle in the parking lot at the Glen Lake Community Schools failed because of “cold, heavy air” that made it difficult for the bird to get aloft, an alternative location was found.

Lessard reported later that she went to Inspiration Point overlooking Glen Lake and released the bird there.

“She soared out,” Lessard said. “When we were up there looking down at the open water, there were other eagles. She didn’t have to hunt that. She could watch and observe and get acclimated to the area.”

Little Glen Lake resident Beth Daniel, who came to the release on New Year’s Day, said Inspiration Point was a good place for the bird to soar.

“We often see bald eagles from our pontoon boat,” Daniel said.

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