- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, Nev. (AP) - An annual tally found 31 fewer bald eagles this year in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area than in 2013, but the number was still the fifth-highest total since counts began in 1991, officials said.

“It’s lower, but it’s not anything to be concerned about,” Ross Haley, a National Park Service wildlife biologist, said of the 132 bald eagles that were found.

The survey involved 26 people who fanned out in eight boats along lakes Mead and Mohave between sunrise and sunset Jan. 15.

Haley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://bit.ly/1bndxol ) that he had prepared for results to be lower.

He cited the recent deaths of more than 50 bald eagles in Utah from West Nile virus and unusually mild weather that has encouraged the birds to remain near good fishing areas on open, ice-free water farther north.

The West Nile outbreak in Utah has been traced to eagles feeding on the carcasses of infected grebes.

Bald eagles have made the Colorado River reservoirs above and below Hoover Dam an annual winter destination because the lakes don’t freeze over, Haley said.

The bird census involved volunteers and staff members from the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Department of Wildlife and the Great Basin Institute.

Of the 132 bald eagles spotted, 60 were adults. The rest were juvenile birds lacking the distinctive, snowy white hoods they will get when they reach sexual maturity at age 4.

Downstream from Hoover Dam, in Black Canyon, surveyors spotted what is believed to be the first nesting pair of bald eagles ever recorded in southern Nevada.

Haley said the pair has been living in the canyon year-round for at least the past four years, but only one of their young has survived.

For the first time this year, surveyors tallied other types of raptors, including 19 red-tailed hawks, 16 peregrine falcons, one prairie falcon, nine northern harriers, one osprey and one kestrel.

The recovery of the bald eagle is considered a federal Endangered Species Act success story.

The birds were declared endangered in 1967 following widespread use of the pesticide DDT and other factors. At the time, numbers had reduced to fewer than 500 nesting pairs in the Lower 48 states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated as many as 100,000 bald eagles live in the U.S., including at least 20,000 outside Alaska.

The bird was removed from the endangered species list seven years ago.

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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com

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