Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Massachusetts
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Wilson, T.L, J.H. Schmidt, B. Mangipane, R. Kolstrom, K. Bartz. 2018. Nest use dynamics of an undisturbed population of bald eagles. Ecology and Evolution. 8: 7346-7354.


Management or conservation targets based on demographic rates should be evaluated within the context of expected population dynamics of the species of interest. Wild populations can experience stable, cyclical, or complex dynamics, therefore undisturbed populations can provide background needed to evaluate programmatic success. Many raptor species have recovered from large declines caused by environmental contaminants, making them strong candidates for ongoing efforts to understand population dynamics and ecosystem processes in response to human‐caused stressors. Dynamic multistate occupancy models are a useful tool for analyzing species dynamics because they leverage the autocorrelation inherent in long‐term monitoring datasets to obtain useful information about the dynamic properties of population or reproductive states. We analyzed a 23‐year bald eagle monitoring dataset in a dynamic multistate occupancy modeling framework to assess long‐term nest occupancy and reproduction in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska. We also used a hierarchical generalized linear model to understand changes in nest productivity in relation to environmental factors. Nests were most likely to remain in the same nesting state between years. Most notably, successful nests were likely to remain in use (either occupied or successful) and had a very low probability of transitioning to an unoccupied state in the following year. There was no apparent trend in the proportion of nests used by eagles through time, and the probability that nests transitioned into or out of the successful state was not influenced by temperature or salmon availability. Productivity was constant over the course of the study, although warm April minimum temperatures were associated with increased chick production. Overall our results demonstrate the expected nesting dynamics of a healthy bald eagle population that is largely free of human disturbance and can be used as a baseline for the expected dynamics for recovering bald eagle populations in the contiguous 48 states.