Wildlife Expert Concerned about Drop in Number of Bald Eagles

Feb 24, 2020

This winter, fewer bald eagles are spending time along the Mississippi River near the Quad Cities. Michelle O'Neill reports the reason may be mild weather plus other factors.


Dr. Stephen Hager photo of Kelly McKay, Director of the Bio-eco Research & Monitoring Center, Hampton, IL
Credit Dr. Stephen Hager / Dr. Stephen Hager
During this year's mid-winter bald eagle count, wildlife biologist and consultant, Kelly McKay, counted 912 bald eagles between Clinton, Iowa and Keithsburg, Illinois. It's the 4th lowest count in the last 20 years for that 81 mile section of the river. From 2000-2009, McKay says the number of bald eagles he counted in the same area averaged nearly 2,500 per year. From 2010-2019, the average dropped to 1,400 per year.

The Hampton ornithologist is also very concerned that the number of immature or young bald eagles was lower this year. Over the last 20 years, McKay says the percentage of immature eagles he's counted averaged 38%. This year it was only 25%.

Dead gizzard shad along one of the Great Lakes
Credit Jennifer Aiken, Flickr - https://tinyurl.com/wlbwng7 / Jennifer Aiken, Flickr
McKay also says the problem may be due to a dwindling supply of food. Bald eagles mainly eat a fish called gizzard shad. Eagles didn't roost in large numbers along the Mississippi this year because of a lack of ice on the river. And that may have contributed to the lack of gizzard shad.