ELK RIVER, Minn. (AP) — The National Park Service said bald eagles continue to make a modest comeback in Minnesota, aided by a warm winter and a thriving food supply.
Last month, an unofficial aerial count along the Mississippi River by wildlife officials revealed at least 36 active nests in the 72-mile stretch from Elk River to Hastings. That compares to 28 last year and 30 in 2010, said Bill Route, an eagle project manager for the Park Service.
"The eagle population is increasing and highly productive" in the area, said Route, who cautioned that aerial counting isn't an exact science.
Each eagle pair in the area generally produces two eaglets a year, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune report (http://bit.ly/Idbzgb ). But many nests between St. Paul and Hastings have three eaglets, Route said, which means the river is clean enough to produce plenty of fish and fowl.
Eagles generally return to the same nest each spring.
The Park Service found high eagle reproduction rates in the Twin Cities area, along the St. Croix River and in the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior.
John Moriarty, a Ramsey County Parks natural resources manager, said all the existing nests he saw during an aerial count last month were full, and he spotted four new ones as well.
The early numbers are encouraging, because they're only from counts along the river and don't include the eagle pairs that nest away from the river, said Mark Martell, bird conservation director for the Minnesota Audubon Society.
"Overall, they seem to be doing very well," he said of the eagles. " ... They are showing up all over the place."
Siah St. Clair, director of the Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley, said the warm winter also helped, as it left the river open for eagles to fish instead of forcing them to fly south in search of open water.
Within the next two months, the Park Service plans another helicopter flight over the Mississippi corridor to count the number of eaglets in each nest, Route said.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.