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Arizona restricts land use near bald eagle nests for breeding season – The Arizona Republic

As bald eagles return to Arizona for the upcoming breeding season, state officials are preparing to welcome the birds by implementing restrictions on public lands.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department says some portions of public land and water areas will be temporarily closed to help ensure that the bald eagles, which have traveled to the state for the winter, will have the best opportunity to reproduce.

AZGFD is encouraging outdoor recreationists, aircraft pilots, drone operators and motorized paragliders to do their part in not disturbing the state’s 94 eagle breeding areas.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also established an advisory for airspace up to 2,000 feet above ground level along the Salt and Verde River drainages, as well as Lake Pleasant, Roosevelt Lake and Alamo Lake.

“We want to give these birds every chance they can to be successful,” said Tuk Jacobson, raptor management coordinator for AZGFD.  “These young are what drive our population into the future.

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The birds are pair bonding and nest building ahead of breeding season. Most of the birds will not lay eggs until January or February.

Bald eagles were first listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. At the time only 11 breeding pairs were identified in the state, but bald eagle populations have improved significantly with federal protection, and the species was officially delisted in 2007.

Threats to the species in the Southwest, such as drought, warming temperatures and lead poisoning, mean the birds are still monitored by federal and state agencies. AZGFD adheres to protective coordinated management actions by the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee.

Measures enacted by AZGFD include a winter population count, occupancy and reproductive assessment flights, the nest watch monitoring program, demographic studies and monofilament recovery program.

As of last year’s breeding season, 73 of the breeding territories in the state were occupied. Jacobson says monitoring these territories is important to make sure eagle populations remain on the uptick.

“If the eagles are not producing enough young to replace those aging adults and fill in territories, then that would turn the trajectory of the population in a direction that we would not want,” he said.

Birds will typically return to the same breeding area year after year. But in recent years AZGFD is finding about one to three new nesting locations, an indicator of a healthy population.

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AZGFD is preparing for nesting season to begin in January. The agency uses a mix of on-the-ground and aerial monitoring to calculate an accurate count of the birds. Volunteers will fan across public lands near lakes and other designated points to count how many bald eagles they encounter.

In northern parts of the state, volunteers will travel along a series of roads and do their counting along their route. But in more remote and rugged regions, the state agency will conduct surveys by helicopter.  During a four-day stretch, officials will monitor from above ground and travel along lakes and other main river systems like the Verde and Salt.

The birds nest in trees that are typically within a mile of water where fish are easily accessible. In Arizona, most of this nesting will occur in desert habitats along the Salt and Verde River. A healthy breeding population can also be found at Roosevelt Lake.

A group of “nest watchers” will be contracted after breeding season to closely monitor bald eagles as they nest. About 16 of these nest watchers will monitor the progress of birds as they prepare to hatch and fledge.

Jacobson says the public can still enjoy viewing the majestic birds in the wild but should maintain their distance, especially if the bird is nesting.

Eagles are particularly sensitive to humans during breeding and nesting season. Even a slight disturbance can cause the birds to expend valuable energy when flushed. In extreme cases, the birds will abandon their nests, leaving eggs to fail or newly hatched chicks to die.

A disturbed eagle will circle its intruder and vocalize its discomfort.

“When I was a kid, there wasn’t a whole lot of them out there, so you didn’t see them,” he said. “Now people have a really good opportunity to see eagles out there, so don’t forget to enjoy them, just at a distance.”

AZGFD lists specific restrictions and closures online, along with a map of the bald eagle nest locations.

Jake Frederico covers environment issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send tips or questions to

Environmental coverage on and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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