Status of Louisiana’s Nesting Bald Eagles

Principle Investigator: Michael Seymour, Nongame Ornithologist, Louisiana Natural Heritage Program

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), formerly a species in precipitous decline due to persecution and contaminants, was removed from the federal Endangered Species List in August 2007, and the species continues to increase in our state and elsewhere.  To be sure, the incredibly successful recovery of the Bald Eagle is rivaled only by that of the Brown Pelican.  Coordinated monitoring of the Bald Eagle in Louisiana began in 1974 when five territories (roughly equal to number of nests) were located (Hess et al. 1994); in 2008, more than 380 nests were located.  Louisiana’s nesting population is third largest in the Southeastern USA (after Florida and Virginia), which makes our responsibility for conserving our nesting eagles even greater regionally. 

Objectives of the Bald Eagle project:

1)    Survey all known active nests (known from the 2008 survey or more recently discovered) via rotary-wing aircraft during the Louisiana Bald Eagle nesting season (core sampling period January through April)

2)    Provide location and activity data on a Species of Greatest Conservation Need to the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program to ensure its database is current for permitting and other purposes

3)    Determine productivity (e.g., number of young/nest) of nesting Bald Eagles for at least 64 nests to compare to previous figures obtained by the Department

Utilizing a list frame of known Bald Eagle nests, filtered for those active at least once during the last decade, the Department intended to survey 520 nests in 2015.  Instead, 647 active and inactive eagle nests were visited.  Of those, 358 nests were considered active (with eggs, chicks, or adults).  In early April 2015, a subset of nests (n=80 nests) were revisited, and productivity and nest success were calculated.  During the 2014/2015 nesting season, Louisiana Bald Eagles produced a minimum of 333 (max of 368) successfully fledged eagles and experienced a minimum productivity of 1.2 young per nest with average brood size of 1.5 eaglets per nest and a minimum nest success of 76% (max of 84%).  This survey produced lower minimum values in all metrics compared to the 34 year averages.  All data have been entered into the Natural Heritage database.  Additional surveys are planned during the 2015/2016 nesting season to better refine the species’ status.