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Bald Eagles More Visible This Winter

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - If you think you've noticed more bald eagles than you usually do this time of year, you're probably right. There are several reasons for that increased visibility, including a soaring population and a long life span.

Karen Disbrow, president of the Iowa City Bird Club, remembers how scarce they were just a few decades ago.

"I was of the generation that thought they'd never see a living bald eagle," Disbrow said.

Disbrow and DNR wildlife management biologist Tim Thompson said bald eagles were edging close to extinction, but that turned around when the United States banned the use of the insecticide ingredient known as DDT in the early 1970's.

"It caused egg shell thinning, and loss of calcium in the eggs," Thompson explained.

"They would lay the eggs successfully, but then when they would try to incubate them, they would crush them," Disbrow told us.

Thanks to the DDT ban, and successful nesting, bald eagles are back.

"We have 370 nesting sites," said Disbrow. "They're in 96 out of the 99 counties."

The Iowa DNR expected 10 nesting pairs - that's two birds able to reproduce - by the year 2000. Now, the state has more than 300.

"Just here in Johnson County, I believe we've got about 8 nesting pair," said Thompson.

Disbrow said a 20 to 25 year lifespan has also contributed to the population boom. A recent count by Thompson tells him that Iowa's bald eagles are doing just fine.

"I run one from Coralville dam down to Tri-County Bridge. It's about 25 miles river-length, and I had over 200 this year," Thompson told us. "If I remember right, it might have been 216 eagles I saw, which is up substantially from last year."

Eagles like open areas of water to fish in, so with a cold winter and more ice, their higher concentrations in those areas make should make them easier to spot.

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