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Flying higher: Wisconsin’s eagle population is at a record high, according to DNR

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    This eagle was released on Oct. 8 near Elk Mound. According to a state Department of Natural Resources report, the state’s bald eagle population hit a record high this year. Surveyors counted nearly 1,600 occupied nests in virtually every part of the state.

    Staff file photo by Steve Kinderman

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    Patti Stangel, founder and owner of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release near Colfax releases a bald eagle Oct. 8 near Elk Mound. The bird was returned to Stangel after treatment at The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.

    Staff file photo by Steve Kinderman

When Patti Stangel first started following eagles in 1986, there were fewer than 300 of the raptors in the state. At that time, she wasn’t sure if there were any in the Dunn County area at all.

“(Now) they’re all over the place,” said Stangel, founder and owner of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release in rural Colfax. “They’ve come back so fantastically.”

That’s a trend across the state — Wisconsin’s eagle population is at a record high, according to an annual report released Tuesday from the state Department of Natural Resources. Western Wisconsin’s growth in the past year was modest compared with southwestern Wisconsin, where occupied eagle nests soared 31 percent.

In the Leader-Telegram’s 12-county coverage area, the DNR’s aerial surveys and ground observations showed 213 occupied nests for 2017. That’s compared with 210 in 2016.

Of those counties, Buffalo has the highest count at 64. Eau Claire County has 9, and both Chippewa and Dunn counties have 11.

Statewide, the report shows 1,590 occupied nests, up from 1,504 last year. The jump is a 5.7 percent increase and the highest since the first survey in 1973, according to the DNR.

“The results underscore the resiliency of the big raptors,” the DNR said in a statement, “which struggled to the point of near extinction in the 1960s and early 1970s until a pesticide ban and state and federal protections helped turn their fortunes around.”

All 72 counties were surveyed by a 10-member team, in addition to help from other DNR staff and reports from the public. Aerial observations took place between early March and mid-April. The research is paid for by a DNR federal wildlife restoration grant, donations to the state’s adopt an eagle nest program and the U.S. Forest Service.

Three counties — Milwaukee, Walworth and Washington — had no reports of occupied eagle nests, according to the report.

Stangel speculated that Buffalo County has such a high count in comparison with surrounding counties because of food and water sources, as well as eagles’ living habits.

“Once (eagles) get used to an area, they stay in that area,” she said. “Once they build a nest, they stay with that nest as long the nest will survive.”

She urged those with questions about the raptors to call Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release at 715-832-1462.

“People’s intentions are usually the best,” Stangel said, “but they can end up harming the animal more.”

Contact: 715-830-5828,, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter


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