Bald eagle breeding season kicks off; restrictions begin
WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Arizona’s bald eagle breeding season is on the horizon and multiple public land and water areas will be closed to protect the majestic animals and ensure even more young eagles take to the skies this spring.
Each year, as part of its highly successful program to conserve and protect bald eagles in the state, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) asks outdoor recreationists, aircraft pilots, drone operators and motorized paragliders to do their part not to disturb the state’s 87 eagle breeding areas.
“December is a sensitive time for bald eagles because they’re often busy preparing their nests for eggs,” said Kenneth Jacobson, AZGFD bald eagle management coordinator. “The birds often nest, forage and roost at rivers and lakes that are also popular recreation spots. Because of that, it’s important for us all to do what we can to protect the birds to ensure their populations statewide continue to flourish. That success wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation of outdoor recreationists who respect the closures during breeding season.”
During the 2018 breeding season, a record 87 young hatched and 70 reached the important milestone of their first flight, known as fledging.
To further protect the eagles, various land and wildlife management agencies will also close areas around breeding locations, including near popular recreation sites.
Pilots are reminded to maintain the FAA-recommended 2,000-foot above ground level advisory when flying over bald eagle habitat, while drones and paragliders are asked to avoid the areas completely. Bald eagles are sensitive to even short durations of low-flying aircraft activity near their nests and just a few minutes of disturbance can lead to a nesting failure.
AZGFD’s bald eagle management efforts are supported by the Heritage Fund, an initiative passed more than 20 years ago to provide for wildlife education and conservation through Arizona lottery ticket sales.
Locally, a portion of the shoreline at White Horse Lake may be closed to foot entry from March 1 to Aug. 31. More information is available from the Kaibab National Forest Williams Ranger District at (928) 635-5600.
Other areas around the state that may be subject to bald eagle breeding season closures include:
• Verde River at the Needle Rock Recreation area, below Sycamore Canyon Wildersness, near Chasm Creek, near Cold Water Creek, upstream of East Verde confluence, near Mule Shoe Bend, below Horseshoe Dam, below Bartlett Dam and at Needle Rock Recreation area.
• Tonto Creek from Gisela to 76 Ranch and the inlet to Roosevelt Lake.
• The Salt River from Horseshoe Bend to Redmond Flat, near Meddler Point, below Steward Mountain Dam and near Goldfield-Kerr Fire Station.
Portions of the following lakes could be subject to partial or total closures: Greer Lakes, Horseshoe Lake, Lake Pleasant, Lower Lake Mary, Luna Lake, Lynx Lake, Show Low Lake, White Horse Lake and Woods Canyon Lake.
More specific information regarding these closures is available from Tonto National Forest at (602) 225-5200, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest at (928) 333-4301, Coconino National Forest at (928) 527-3600, Kaibab National Forest at (928) 635-8200 or Prescott National Forest at (928) 567-4121.
Plan a trip
If you are visiting bald eagle country, an advance call to the local land management agency, such as the local U.S. Forest Service district office, or the Arizona Game and Fish Department may help to plan your trip to avoid disturbing bald eagles.
By following these simple guidelines, we can all help ensure that our living wildlife legacy will last for generations to come:
• Enjoy bald eagles from outside the closures, which are marked with signs and/or buoys. Watch from a distance using a spotting scope, binoculars or telephoto camera lens.
• Anyone approached by a nest watcher and asked to cease an activity or leave a closed area should comply. A few good places to see bald eagles without disturbing them (during December and January) are at Lake Mary and Mormon Lake near Flagstaff, on the Verde Canyon Train in Clarkdale or Roosevelt Lake.
• Bald eagles protecting an active nest will let you know if you are too close. If a bald eagle is vocalizing and circling the area frantically, you are too close and need to leave the area quickly. Bald eagles incubating eggs or brooding small young should never be off the nest for more than 15 minutes.
• Help from anglers is especially needed. Fishing line and tackle have killed two nestlings and been found in two-thirds of all bald eagle nests in the state. Every year biologists remove these lethal hazards from nests and/or entangled nestlings. Discard of any fishing line properly in specially-marked recycling containers or at fishing stores. Also, use fresh line that isn’t old and brittle. Use the correct test line for the fish you are trying to catch. Also, do not cut the line when an undesirable fish is caught and return it to the water with the hook and line attached.
• Duck hunters should scout out their hunting area to ensure that bald eagles are not nesting nearby.
You can help bald eagle research and recovery efforts by reporting any harassment or shooting of bald eagles. Call the Arizona Game and Fish Operation Game Thief Hotline at (800) 352-0700 or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement at (480) 967-7900.
Information provided by Arizona Game and Fish Department.