Scavenging bald eagles face threat from vehicles in Michigan

Study conducted by biologist examined deaths of 1,490 bald eagles


LANSING, Mich. – Bald eagles that soar majestically through Michigan skies are finding danger on the ground even after recovering from the brink of extinction.

The birds are now more likely to die after getting struck by cars or from lead they consume as they pick off the carcass of road kill and animals, including deer, a recent study in the Journal of Wildlife Management indicated.

But according to Marvin Roberson, a forest ecologist for the Michigan Sierra Club, these causes of death aren't surprising.

“Bald eagles are scavengers, and road kill is a favorite form of food for them because they are sitting on the road,” Roberson said. “Unlike a lot of smaller birds who can fly off when they see a car coming, it takes a bald eagle a ways to get the engine running and off the road. If somebody doesn’t slow down, it’s not like a sparrow who just speeds off into the distance.”

The study conducted by biologist Kendall Simon, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, examined the deaths of 1,490 bald eagles. Simon found that most of the dead birds were females, The Detroit News reported.

The bald eagle population has been falling for decades in Michigan, but the decline has slowed down in recent years. They became one of the first species to be protected under the precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2007, bald eagles were removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.

Experts say Michigan is home to an estimated 2,500 bald eagles, including more than 500 young eagles that aren’t of breeding age.

“There’s a gradual, not a significant, upward trend (in deaths) and that is a functional response to the increasing population,” Simon said. “Eagles like to live on water. They prefer to eat fish. If they can’t fish, they definitely eat a deer on the side of the road.”

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