Movements of immature bald eagles: Implications for bird aircraft strike hazard

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 



Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) aircraft strikes have increased dramatically over the last 20 years as their populations have recovered to near historic sizes. Their attraction to airfields and their large body size makes them a danger to aircraft and therefore important to airfield wildlife managers. However, their management is complicated by their special protected status and the iconic place they hold in the eyes of the public. To help airfield wildlife managers plan monitoring efforts and make informed management decisions, we studied the movements of 32 bald eagles telemetered as nestlings in the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia, USA. Managers often need to know when fledged eagles are most likely to move enough to encounter airfields near nests. As fledglings aged they moved progressively farther from the nest and spent more time away from the nest. Twenty-eight days after fledging, eagles spent most of the day (81±10%, 95% confidence interval) near the nest (<500 m) and only 7±7% of the daytime away from the nest (>1 km). By day 53 fledglings ventured beyond 2.5 km from the nest and spent 30 ± 15% the day >1 km away from their nest. However, distances moved were influenced by proximity of the nest to water, the quality and salinity of that water, and human population density. Eagles left their natal areas and generally migrated out of the Chesapeake Bay 60.5 ± 7.7 days (4 August) after fledging and returned to the Chesapeake Bay approximately 225 days later (March-April). Eighty-four percent (27 of 32) of the eagles that we tracked encountered 164 airfields across the east coast with 91% of those airfields located within 10 km of the Chesapeake Bay. Encounters with airfields outside the Chesapeake Bay occurred mainly during the first 1.5 years of life, peaking in late fall and early spring. Eagles were recorded on Chesapeake Bay airfields during each year, but encounters peaked in April of the first year of the bird’s life. This month coincides with the height of reported strikes of eagles by aircraft in the region. Our results suggest that eagles fledging from the Chesapeake Bay are not only an issue for airports near the Chesapeake Bay, but for airports across the east coast. Given the continued growth of the population, this issue is likely to continue and grow in significance.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Movements of immature bald eagles: Implications for bird aircraft strike hazard
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21647
Volume 83
Issue 4
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher The Wildlife Society
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 879
Last page 892
Country United States
State Virginia
Other Geospatial Chesapeake Bay
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details