The Director of the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre in Île des Chênes says bald eagle sightings have become more common here in the southeast over the last few years. 

Zoe Nakata says this is very exciting news for ongoing conservation efforts, noting "certainly their range and is expanding, their population numbers are expanding and it's such a difference from the 1980s when they were in decline."

As they are a top predator, she notes a healthy eagle population points to strong food sources from the bottom of the food chain to the top. There may also be another reason why we are seeing more eagles this year in particular. 

“Some of them will migrate during really harsh winters, some of them will actually stick around if they're able to find a pretty consistent food source so I suspect since we've had a milder winter, we probably have more of them that have stuck around. Then, this time of year, we also have the ones that have migrated that are coming back so now there's just an amazing culmination of them.” 

Unfortunately, more bald eagles in the Southeast also means more injured bald eagles are being admitted to the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre. Nakata notes they have seen eagles admitted for all sorts of reasons from being struck by a car, to flying into hydro lines.  

“Year after year, the number of those cases increases. The good news is that our capacity for treating them is also increasing. We're learning new techniques, there's new medications available, surgeries, all sorts of really cool medical procedures that we're able to do in our vet hospital to make sure that they get to return to the wild where they belong.” 

With a strong bald eagle population here in the Southeast, there are also plenty of opportunities for bird watching. Nakata notes “Off the highway, I’ve seen 50 of them gathering in a tree, which is pretty darn impressive.” 

a group of bald eagles congregate in a treeA large number of bald eagles congregate in a tree line. Photo submitted by Mandy Hiebert.

She says these are amazing creatures and bird watching is encouraged, however, she notes it is important that we stay safe while doing so, especially when we see eagles on the side of the road. For the eagle's sake, she notes we should also keep at a distance. 

“We don't want to be intruding on the space of these animals, that's when injuries can happen. Especially this time of year, a lot of them will have babies in their nests and so there's a risk of stressing out the parent that's taking care of the babies and the extreme risk is that you disturb the parent so much that they abandoned the nest and that, of course, is catastrophic to those babies.” 

Fortunately, Nakata says many cameras and even phones now have incredibly zoom capability meaning we can get a great photo from a distance. 

In addition to giving eagles space, she notes we should also avoid feeding them. 

“Eagles are excellent predators, they're excellent scavengers, so they've got awesome opportunities for food out there, they do not need humans to interfere that way.” 

If you do happen to find a bald eagle in distress, Nakata says you are encouraged to reach out to the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre.