Impact of Central IL Eagle Census by Volunteers

The Central Illinois efforts of the Werner family, including Mark and his daughter Kealy, have been highly important toward the collection of migratory wintering bald eagle numbers. Mark Werner, who was on the board of directors for the Eagle Nature Foundation during the 1990’s, has participated regularly in the Eagle count for years with Kealy in January of each year.

The Foundation has been a major source of support for bald eagle research for decades and the Werner’s involvement has made an impact in our area with other volunteers in Central Illinois. Mark and Kealy have photographs of their journeys along with many stories of the work they do that makes their counts exciting and interesting to hear about. The bald eagle has a seven foot wingspan and floats on currents high in the air, which allows them to cite fish as they head down the Illinois River through Central Illinois.

According to President Terry Ingram of the Eagle Nature Foundation, “The Illinois River had the greatest increase in the number of eagles and in the percentage of immatures. An interesting note is that the (boat team) recorded in an hour and one half almost one third of all the immature and adults counted in the whole count area (along the great rivers) from Minnesota to Tennessee…But the encouraging point, is that the percentage of immature has now returned to above 30 percent for the first time in ten years. The troubling part of this fact is that two person saw one half of all the immature, which were recorded for the whole count.”

Mark and Kealy spot and tally eagles from high expanses in the air on a boat rather than on the shoreline where most people are observing. They mainly were involved locally through the Peoria Audubon starting in 1999 and having volunteered since then.  In the early years, they would count a few hundred birds and in 2000 with the boat as well as a land count, as a group they counted over 500. It has been three years since Mark and Kealy have counted the eagles by boat due to the ice being frozen. However, just about every year they are dedicated to count with the variety of people involved.

Statistics of the bald eagle count are the most fascinating to those not involved in the activities of bald eagle census counters. According to the 2011 Midwinter Bald Eagle Count from Peoria to Havana that Mark and Kealy are involved in, “365 adults, 228 immatures, and 623 total bald eagles, 39.9 percent of immatures” were counted, which is a difference from “534 eagles counted in 2010 and a 16.8 percentage change of immature bald eagles.”

The Eagle Nature Foundation has been doing Winter Bald Eagle counts for years on the Mississippi as well as other outlying river areas with the Werner’s actively involved for several years in Central Illinois. The bald eagle count is always held historically on the last Saturday or weekend in January.  Mark Werner states, “President Ingram always gives a five year or ten year average of birds. The point of this survey during the last Saturday in January is that it’s a time of year when all these birds are here. Because they migrate from the upper tier of states and lower provinces. They all come down to our narrow river (where) there’s a working barge channel and the river tends to be open. That’s where they have to get their food. The vast majority of the birds are located along the river bank from Peoria down to Havana. We historically count the thirty mile stretch from Pekin to Havana.”

Their constant commitment to this cause has created an impact in the Central Illinois area due to their diligence in counting migratory wintering bald eagles. His passion for the bald eagle population is apparent in speaking with him and Kealy is a major asset towards the counts, making it a positive family occurrence. Without volunteers like Mark and Kealy, there would not be an overall assessment of the population of bald eagles. Mark states, “When you go down the Mississippi and Illinois River, a tributary, there are a lot of eagles to count. The volunteers count them from a shore vista, a place on the shore where you can see. They go with binoculars and spotting scopes to get a definitive location (and) try to determine (where the bald eagles are).”

Kealy also notes, “The difference with us is that we get to go on the boat, while everyone else is looking with binoculars from the shore. We identify them from both sides on the river and keep up with them when they start flying.” Kealy Werner has been a major supporter of her father Mark Werner’s efforts due to the sincerity of his efforts. She has been along for the journey of counting wintering bald eagles for years and those who speak to her about it can sense her eagerness to be involved.

In regards to the migratory bald eagle count, Mark states, “This is the fifty-first year the Eagle Nature Foundation has done this Winter Bald Eagle count on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In other words, the early 60’s were the first year that they did it. Immatures (are the bald eagles) with no white head. Immature (bald eagles), (under five years old), are the number you are most concerned about because it marks the survival of the young. When this first started, (the immatures) percentage stays in the upper teens and low twenties through the era of putting out DDT poison.”

He also states, “In the mid 1960’s, the migratory wintering bald eagles number went down alarmingly and it’s when the bald eagle was put on the endangered species list. It just came off of that list a few years ago. Recently, (bald eagles) went onto the protected species list which means in the early to mid 1960’s there was a real chance that there would be no more bald eagles because they just weren’t reproducing. They got wiped out by poison that caused the egg shells to become brittle and crack.” Thus, the importance of keeping wintering migratory bald eagles alive is due to the counting by volunteers of the species, the determination of wintering bald eagles to survive, and the efforts of all those who conserve them.

Overall, Mark and Kealy Werner are truly amazing people whose courage to support the species by withstanding cold temperatures to count the species each winter is remarkable. The volunteers are helping to spot wintering bald eagles in their habitat in order to further along conservation through the knowledge of the wintering bald eagles numbers. All in all, Mark and Kealy are wonderful people who help with the Eagle Nature Foundation and Peoria Audubon Society’s abilities to sustain these beautiful birds in flight. For more information about the Eagle Nature Foundation, visit:

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