During the month of January, I was fortunate to have a majority of my work day occupied by bald eagle surveys for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (OkDOT). While some days were more interesting than others, the time spent watching our magnificent national bird more than made up for the uneventful hours of surveying. Armed with binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras, warm outerwear, coffee and turnpike toll money, our subcontractors and I covered nearly 4,000 miles of Oklahoma roads to document bald eagles. We were working in or near study areas associated with 2018 and 2019 transportation projects.
Our OkDOT task included surveying about 100 sites in 29 counties in eastern Oklahoma, from the Kansas to the Texas border. All during the month of January. To accomplish this task, we worked with project trusted partners. Three biologists from the project team and I attended a training session led by OkDOT in November 2017, in preparation for the surveys.
Identifying adult bald eagles, whether in flight or perched, is easy to do with their white heads and tails. Their adult plumage appears at five years of age. When juvenile bald eagles are present, one must make every effort to age them based on plumage, eye and beak color. That requires adequate light, good binoculars or a spotting scope, and a great camera
Oklahoma has a great bald eagle comeback story that played a part in the delisting of the bald eagle as an endangered species in 2007. Between 1984 and 1992, the Sutton Avian Research Center in Bartlesville, OK, raised and released 275 bald eagles to restore the breeding population in southeastern states. Sutton Center staff took bald eagle eggs from nests in Florida, reared them in captivity in Oklahoma, and released these birds in five southeastern states, including Oklahoma. In 1990 Oklahoma had less than five nesting pairs of bald eagles and today we have 150 resident nesting pairs. The number of resident eagles is also increasing at approximately 1.5 percent annually based on nest occurrence data.
If you’d like to see an active Oklahoma bald eagle nest with eaglets, check out the Sutton Center’s bald eagle nest webcam.