June 23, 2013

Deirdre Fleming: Road to survival for bald eagles includes alert motorists

Maine abounds with wildlife, and consequently, it has more than its share of roadkill, bald eagles included.

After the state discovered a number of bald eagles had been fatally hit by vehicles on I-95 north of Bangor, officials set about trying to reduce the mortality rate of the majestic and symbolic bird. But it’s still uncertain if the road signs that went in at the northern end of the interstate have helped, officials say.

Bald eagles were taken off the endangered species list in Maine in 2007, but still are listed as a threatened bird here and need to be protected.

The road signs erected last winter warn motorists of bald eagles in the road on the section of the highway between Medway and Island Falls.

In addition, road crews at the Department of Transportation regularly went out at dawn and drove that stretch to move any roadkill off the road, so carcasses would not attract the eagles, said state wildlife biologist Alan Star.

The eagles are drawn onto the road when animals, in particular deer, are struck by cars and offer an easy meal for the bird.

The danger for eagles, which have a wing span up to 7 feet, is that it takes them longer than other birds to take flight. So by the time a car is upon an eagle, there is no time for it to rise high enough to avoid getting struck.

As a federally threatened bird, the bald eagle needs greater care for its protection.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife wanted DOT to minimize this. They considered it a take (the illegal killing of a protected animal),” said Star.

Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said 36 bald eagles have been struck by automobiles in Maine since 2005, including 11 in the month of March, when deer are on the move at the end of the winter and also getting hit by cars.

As many as 21 eagles were killed on I-95, and Talbot said the state counted as many as 10 killed on I-95 in the Medway area in recent years. So signs went up this past winter.

“They need a whole lot more room to get that lift. And boy, it breaks people’s hearts to hit any animal. But we’ve seen it more the last two seasons than in the past with bald eagles,” Talbot said.

Star said that section of the interstate from Medway to Island Falls has a few historic deer crossings, which is why eagles are drawn there, to look for road kill carcasses to feast on.

He said there were no eagles killed on that section of the interstate this past winter. Because this winter’s snowfall was enough to minimize deer movement, however, it’s hard to know if the problem has been solved.

Star said he hopes drivers will heed signs and slow for eagles.
“It’s a good idea for people to go slower and understand it’s harder for them to take off,” Star said.

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:
dfleming@pressherald.com

 

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