Loading Search
Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee
Guiding Bald Eagle Management in Arizona
Arizona Bald Eagle Winter Count Logo Southwest Bald Eagle Management Committee Logo Arizona Game and Fish Department Logo Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program Logo

Arizona Bald Eagle
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Arizona Game and Fish Department

What is the history of the bald eagle's listed status?
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was classified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1978 as endangered in 43 states (including Arizona) and threatened in five others. It was not listed as endangered or threatened in Alaska and does not occur in Hawaii. In 1995, the species was downlisted to threatened in all recovery regions of the lower 48 states. In 2007, the species was delisted. For a more complete history of the bald eagle's status, visit our Legal Status page.

Was there a Recovery Plan written for the Southwestern Region?
The southwestern region includes Arizona, New Mexico, California along the west bank of the Colorado River where it borders Arizona, and Texas and Oklahoma west of the 100th meridian. The Southwestern Bald Eagle Recovery Plan goals were to (a) establish breeding birds in one or more river drainages in addition to those of the Salt and Verde rivers, (b) have 10 to 12 young produced annually for a five-year period, and (c) identify important winter habitat.

Were the goals of the Recovery Plan accomplished?

The goals of the Southwestern Recovery Plan were met within three years of its drafting. Occupied bald eagle breeding areas now exist on the Salt, Verde, Bill Williams, Agua Fria, Gila, San Carlos, San Francisco, San Pedro, Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. Annual productivity has averaged 27 young since 1982. Mid-winter counts have been performed in most years since 1982, and the important winter habitats are reasonably well known.

What protection will the bald eagle have after delisting from the Endangered Species Act?

The species will still retain protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Lacey Act, the Airborne Hunting Act, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and the general provisions of Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 17.

What is the history of breeding bald eagles in Arizona?

Breeding bald eagles were first reported in Arizona at Stoneman Lake in 1890. They may have occurred elsewhere in remote unsurveyed areas. In the 1930s, workers building Stewart Mountain and Bartlett dams observed desert nesting bald eagles. Breeding reports remained sparse until the 1970s. Then, concern for the species' declining status nationwide spurred surveys to document their breeding range.

How many breeding areas do we have?

Presently (2011), 62 bald eagle breeding areas (55 occupied) are known in Arizona. Most are in the central part of the state, primarily along the Salt and Verde Rivers.

Who owns the land where the bald eagles nest?

Nests are located on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Fort McDowell Indian Community, private landowners, San Carlos Apache Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management, and Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. At the Alamo, Cedar Basin, Coolidge and Granite Basin, Pleasant, and Tonto breeding areas, management responsibility is shared.

What are the threats to the bald eagle in Arizona?

Although Arizona bald eagles are resilient and their numbers are higher than ever recorded, the risk of loss persists. Human populations, recreational pressures, and development in or near the best breeding habitat are increasing. Because of limited enforcement personnel, breeding area closures are not effective without seasonal nestwatchers. Nesting habitat is suffering in the most productive breeding areas for pairs restricted to riparian trees. Mercury is present at levels sufficiently high to cause failure in eggs along the Verde, Salt, and Gila rivers. Loss of native fish along the upper Salt River may have lowered bald eagle productivity. Mortality in the adult segment seems unreasonably high, which could be draining the floating population of itinerant adults. These factors, combined with natural mortality agents such as parasites, predation, competitors, and heat (affecting nestlings), indicate our attention must remain focused on bald eagles for the foreseeable future.

When do bald eagles breed?

Compared to northern bald eagles, Arizona bald eagles breed earlier in the year. One to three eggs are laid from December to March and take 35 days to hatch. Adults share nesting duties until eaglets fledge at approximately 12 weeks old (May and June). The fledglings are almost completely dependent upon the adults for food until they migrate north, about 45 days after fledging.

Where do they put their nests?

Arizona bald eagle nests are commonly placed on cliff ledges, rock pinnacles, and in cottonwood trees. However, nests have also been placed in junipers, pinyon pines, sycamores, willows, ponderosa pines, and snags. In 1980, bald eagles at Horseshoe Lake nested in an artificial structure.

How productive is the population in Arizona?

Productivity rates vary from year to year and are closely associated with breeding density, food, and weather. Productivity rates in Arizona are lower than those recorded throughout North America. From 1975 to 1984, average productivity rates were 0.92 young per occupied breeding area when the number of breeding areas was below 20; since then the average has been 0.84 (1985-2011). Productivity rates in Alaska, Florida, Washington, and Wisconsin, averaged 0.96 young per occupied breeding area.

What do they eat?

Bald eagles are opportunistic feeders; eating anything easy to catch. Primarily their diet consists of fish, but they will also eat birds, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and carrion. Fish commonly eaten are Sonora and desert suckers, channel and flathead catfish, common carp, largemouth, smallmouth, yellow and white bass, and black crappie. Less commonly eaten fish are roundtail chub, green sunfish, bluegill, tilapia, and rainbow trout.

Do Arizona bald eagles migrate to other states?

The young leave their natal area and migrate north to exploit the trout and salmon spawning in Canada and the Northwest. We believe the two and three year-old subadults also migrate annually to these destinations, returning to Arizona in September and October. We are unsure if the non-breeding four-year-old and adult bald eagles follow this same pattern, or remain in Arizona searching for openings or establishing new breeding areas. Breeding adults tend to stay in their breeding areas year-round, but some have traveled to the White Mountains and lakes near Flagstaff for a few weeks during the summer.

What is the Conservation Assessment and Strategy for Bald Eagles in Arizona?

The Conservation Assessment and Strategy (CAS) for bald eagles in Arizona identifies the current threats to the population, outlines management programs and needs, and proposes innovative management techniques for problems affecting the species in Arizona. The projects and programs being funded through this agreement will continue to help identify, maintain, and enhance the current distribution and abundance of breeding and wintering bald eagles in Arizona. The CAS was signed by some members of the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee in 2007.

Who is in control of implementing the Conservation Assessment?

Overseeing implementation of the Assessment is the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee. Bi-annual meetings and a public relations subcommittee provide the forums to work toward a common goal: conservation of the bald eagle. With the species occurring on lands managed by different agencies and Native American Tribes, cooperation among all involved is crucial for the species.

To what can we attribute the success of the bald eagle in Arizona?

The distribution and abundance of breeding Arizona bald eagles has improved over the past decade or two, largely because of intensive management. Key management programs/projects and committees developed have been critical factors in improving and maintaining the species' status in Arizona: the Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program, the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee, the Arizona Bald Eagle Nest Search, the Organochlorine and Heavy Metal Analysis, the Banding and Visual Identification Project, and the Occupancy and Reproduction Assessment helicopter flights.

  • Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program
  • The Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program began as a weekend volunteer effort by the U.S. Forest Service and Maricopa Audubon Society in 1978. Since then, the Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program has expanded into a multiagency program contracting 20 biologists annually. The primary goals of the Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program are public education, data collection, and conservation of the species.

  • Bald eagle nest survey
  • Since 1985, Arizona Game and Fish Department, with logistical and funding support from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Arizona Public Service, and Salt River Project, has conducted an annual bald eagle nest search. New areas, historical areas, and known breeding areas are inspected for breeding adults, new nests, and alternate nests.

  • Occupancy and reproduction assessment helicopter flights
  • Crucial to determining statewide productivity is the seasonal monthly Occupancy and Reproduction Assessment helicopter flights. With helicopter support from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Salt River Project, biologists visit all breeding areas in two days to determine occupancy status, stage of the breeding cycle, and the result of the breeding attempt. Knowing the exact status and stage of the breeding cycle is beneficial for management needs, scheduling banding events, and planning projects.

  • Bald eagle winter count
  • Through a nationwide effort initiated by the National Wildlife Federation in 1979 and now coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an annual bald eagle winter count throughout the lower 48 states helps determine population trends. After participating from 1981-1985, Arizona Game and Fish Department resurrected a statewide winter count in 1992. The counts, which occur during a two-week period in January, yield information on bald eagle numbers, age classes, and habitats. Through 102 standardized routes, completed by state and federal agencies, Native American Tribes, and private groups, about 300 wintering bald eagles are counted in Arizona each year.

  • Seasonal closures
  • Breeding area closures help eliminate inadvertent human disturbance to the breeding cycle. During certain times of the year, human activity near an active nest can cause abandonment and failures. By closing certain areas to human activity, in conjunction with the Arizona Bald Eagle Nestwatch Program, we can increase a pair's opportunity to successfully reproduce.

  • Demography studies
  • Bald eagle nestlings were sporadically banded in Arizona through the early 1980s with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bands. Since 1987, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife have marked nestlings with color visual identification (VID) bands. Each year, Arizona Game and Fish Department also identifies breeding adults for the presence or absence of bands, and reads the unique symbol engraved on the VID band. This information allows us to determine the origin of breeding adults, age of first breeding, mortality of breeding adults, and tenure.