Calgary

K-Country golden eagle count dips to lowest level in more than 2 decades

Rosemary Power says the decline in golden eagles could be a short-term trend connected with factors like bad weather and food source issues this year, and that some could be taking different routes as a result.

The birds of prey may have found alternative migratory paths due to bad weather

Long-time volunteer George Halmazna has been helping with the golden eagle count for the Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation for 26 years. He says this is the lowest fall count he's ever seen. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

It's been the lowest golden eagle count in more than two decades for this time of year in Kananaskis Country.

Each spring and fall, volunteer observers from the Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation take note of how many of the birds pass over the Rockies along their migration route.

Since mid-September, they've counted only 2,400 of the birds of prey from a lookout point on Mount Lorette, compared with 3,170 last year, and 3,672 the year before.

Co-ordinator Rosemary Power says the drop could be a short-term trend connected with factors like bad weather and food source issues this year, and that some eagles could be taking different routes as a result.

Rosemary Power, count co-ordinator with the Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation, says it's been an 'interesting year' for the fall count. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

She says the low count isn't necessarily bad news.

"This year, both spring and fall migrations, we've seen a real marked decline below what we'd expect. But we don't think that's the actual number of birds that are out there," she said.

"We believe the birds went through; it's just they didn't move through on their traditional lines," Power said.

Power says the foundation has noticed a decline in the number of other birds, too.

"We would be very concerned if it was just the eagles, but we're seeing this across the board with all the hawks, the falcons, the osprey. So we know that it's a general pattern with these migrant birds, that they're all struggling with the same issues."

George Halmazna, who has been with the foundation for 26 years, says birds can deal with many different types of challenges along the way.

"It's just incredible how these birds know how to cope with the weather conditions and smart that they are using the weather conditions to their advantage," he said.

The foundation, which has about 25 volunteers, has been counting golden eagles for nearly three decades to help better understand their patterns and numbers.

The fall count runs from Sept. 20 to Nov. 15 each year.

With files from Dave Gilson