An aerial survey last week found 2,041 bald eagles in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and surrounding areas.
"At that time, they were pretty well spread out," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist and pilot Jack Hodges, who conducted the aerial count the first such survey of the season.
Of the total count, 1,192 eagles were found in the critical habitat area between mile 19 and mile 21 of the Haines Highway.
Hodges said that while an abundance of chum salmon in area river systems might have played a role in the wide distribution, ice-free waters likely were the driving factor behind the dispersion.
The recent string of cold weather, however, may force the eagles into a more concentrated area, he said.
"As the waters on the rivers freeze, the concentration of eagles compresses," Hodges said. "In cases like that, the eagles tend to gather mostly at the critical habitat area."
The first aerial count last year found 3,444 bald eagles. Between 1991 and 1993 such counts found between 3,200 and 3,300.
The only count higher than last year's was 3,988 in November 1984, the first year aerial surveys were conducted.
Fly-over counts typically net more birds than are found in ground counts.
A ground count early this month found 1,672 bald eagles in the area.
Hodges said those counts are more accurate "in areas we can get to," but added that aerial counts are more valuable because they allow biologists to cover the valley's river systems more completely and generate a more representative number of the eagle population.
Hodges said biologists typically conduct two aerial counts. A follow-up survey has yet to be scheduled.
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