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More To Mead: Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird …

Over the winter months, visitors to Lake Mead National Recreation Area can witness several raptor species, as it is a popular hunting ground for wintering bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, and northern harriers. Each bird is a raptor — a meat-eating bird with sharp talons, hooked beaks, and keen eyesight.

The most iconic is our National Bird, the majestic bald eagle, symbolizing freedom, strength, and resilience. Visitors can witness these magnificent birds because of the conservation efforts over the last fifty years and the exceptional work of park staff and volunteers. A significant part of conservation is capturing the numbers of the various species, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area conducts a count each winter to complete this task.

On the early morning of Jan. 9, 2024, Lake Mead National Recreation Area staff and volunteers completed the annual raptor survey. Clayton Merrill, our local wildlife biologist, led the planning efforts. A few of his many duties are organizing wildlife surveys, coordinating with state and federal partners on wildlife studies, conducting training regarding wildlife, and capturing and removing reptiles and animals that wander into locations harmful to themselves or occupied by humans. Initially, the survey was used to monitor trends for the bald eagle survey initiative. More recently, the park has expanded the study to include all raptors.

“Lakes Mead and Mohave are essential hunting grounds for overwintering bald eagles and local raptors. Data from our counts, along with surveys across the country, gives us an understanding of the health of our ecosystems over time,” said Mark Sappington, chief of Resource Management.

Staff and volunteers conducted the count using eight small boats deployed simultaneously on different routes across both Lake Mead and Mohave. Deploying each of the teams at once minimizes the risk of double counting. Each group has a resident bird expert or lead observer determining whether questionable birds are raptors. Most of the raptor species are easy to spot with binoculars, as their talons and beaks give them away, but for the more elusive birds, several of the small boats employed are equipped with high-powered cameras and spotting scopes.

When asked why the count is so important, he commented, “We hold the American people’s trust. We are tasked with preserving these resources, including wildlife, for future generations.”

Beyond the scientific significance of the yearly count, it also strengthens our relationships with the community through a public-private partnership. Because of our community volunteers, including the boat drivers, bird counters, and experts, Lake Mead National Recreation Area surveyed over three hundred square miles of lake and the sky above it.

These numbers are passed to state and federal agencies to assist conservation efforts. We want to send a heartfelt thank you to all the volunteers and staff members who participated. Your efforts are just one part of the conservation picture. Together, we help keep Lake Mead National Recreation Area a haven for aquatic, avian, and land-based creatures, including the majestic raptors that grace our sky.

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