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Use of upland and riparian areas by wintering bald eagles and implications for wind energy

July 22, 2020

Weather can shape movements of animals and alter their exposure to anthropogenic threats. Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are increasingly at risk from collision with turbines used in onshore wind energy generation. In the midwestern United States, development of this energy source typically occurs in upland areas that bald eagles use only intermittently. Our objective was to determine the factors that cause wintering bald eagles to occupy riparian areas and riskier, upland areas. We tracked 20 bald eagles using telemetry in the Upper Midwest (MN, IA, MO, WI, IL, USA) during winter 2014–2015 and 2015–2016 and evaluated habitat use by eagles in response to variation in weather and time of year. Eagles used riparian areas more when wind speed and atmospheric pressure were low. Exclusive use of uplands was more frequent during weather systems with low pressure and high humidity and after long periods of cold weather. There was a non‐linear response to time of year (measured by days before migration) in the frequency of exclusive use of uplands or riparian areas. Probability of exclusive use of either landscape was generally constant within 95 days prior to migration. The probability of use of riparian areas, however, was markedly less during dates >100 days before migration. Our results suggest that eagles are most likely to be exposed to wind energy developments located in upland areas during low pressure systems, after long periods of cold weather, and several months before the onset of spring migration. This information helps to better understand the factors influencing bald eagle habitat use in winter and will be useful to managers and developers wishing to establish effective strategies to avoid, minimize, and mitigate take, and to survey for mortalities at wind energy developments. 

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