Eagle in central Omaha highlights success of conservation efforts

January 8, 2019

Carol Gibilisco didn’t believe it when her daughter-in-law looked out the window and said she saw a bald eagle in a nearby tree.

This wasn’t Lake Manawa in Council Bluffs or Lake Zorinsky in southwest Omaha, where eagles can be plentiful over the winter months. It was near 60th Street and Western Avenue in Dundee.

“That’s why I thought she was nuts,” Gibilisco said.

But their son Joe’s wife, Catherine, was right. It was an eagle, and they have a iPhone picture to prove it.

Someone seeing an eagle in central Omaha is no surprise to Mike Benkis, the administrator for the Facebook page Birds of Prey of Nebraska.

“I see them all over. I’ve seen several fly over the Interstate at 120th and L,” he said. “They are everywhere.”

Amateur photographer Karen Kader says it’s been a banner year around the Schramm and Louisville State Recreation Areas, especially along Nebraska Highway 31.

“There has been so many the last month,” she said. “This year takes the cake for number of eagles there.”

Will Inselman, the wildlife research supervisor for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said the Dundee sighting is just another sign of the success story involving America’s national bird. Once threatened, eagles are now thriving.

Federal fish and wildlife officials point to habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the banning of the pesticide DDT and conservation efforts undertaken by the American public as the main reasons for the bird’s recovery.

Eagles were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007 because of their growing numbers but still are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Nebraska has an estimated 209 active nests. Iowa has about 175.

From 1996 to 2011, Game and Parks’ count averaged about 990 bald eagles in Nebraska during the winter. But the organization hasn’t done a winter count since 2013.

“They became so plentiful it wasn’t necessary to do the survey,” Inselman said. “Now we have plenty of eagles, and they are doing well and prosperous.”

The majestic birds congregate around bodies of water and rivers all over the Midwest in the winter months. Because of this year’s mild weather, fish are plentiful along with the injured and sick waterfowl the eagles prey on.

“It’s a great thing because we have everything they need here,” Inselman said.

It wouldn’t be a stretch, he said, for one to leave the water and fly across Omaha in search of food. They can go 50 to 150 miles a day when they are migrating.

Gibilisco thinks she knows what the bird was feasting on in her neighborhood: “There are a lot of rabbits,” she said.

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