Bald eagle habitat use on B. Everett Jordan Lake and Falls Lake, North Carolina

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Virginia Tech

I examined the roosting and perching habitat preferences of a nonbreeding population of bald eagles in North Carolina during 1986 and 1987. I characterized roosting habitat at 2 scales; those of forest stands and individual roost trees. Eagles chose roost areas that were less dense, had less canopy cover, were closer to forest edges, and had larger trees than random forest areas (P < 0.05). Within roost areas eagles choose trees that were larger (height and dbh) than random trees. Additionally. eagles roosting at the Morgan Creek roost preferred dead hardwoods close to the forest edge and eagles at the Mason Point roost preferred trees farther from a frequently used dirt road within the roost.

Suitable perch trees were the most important attribute of perching habitat. Eagles preferred loblolly pines and trees with leafless crowns (P < 0.05), which relates to their accessible crown structures. Perch trees were larger (height and dbh, P < 0.05) than adjacent trees along the shore. Eagles utilized the bottom of tree crowns during summer but used treetops during fall and winter. I found no evidence that eagles selected perches in relation to forest stand characteristics within 20 m of perch trees, forest cover types in 1 ha blocks surrounding perches, or habitat disturbances.

Management recommendations include techniques to enhance bald eagle habitat on the study area. Primary emphasis should be toward managing for roosting habitat because of its apparent scarcity. Perch trees are plentiful but long-term management is desirable. Future nesting seems likely and management techniques for potential nesting habitat are suggested.