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Bald eagle sightings appear to be on the rise in Austin

A bald eagle feeds its two young in a large nest perched in a tree.
Lower Colorado River Authority
Bald eagles nest along Buchanan Dam, about 50 miles northwest of Austin, in February.

A slew of bald eagle sightings in Austin has excited birders and non-birders alike. The iconic raptors are not particularly common in the area, but, according to reports by citizen scientists, their numbers appear to be on the rise.

The first well-publicized recent sighting took place over Lake Austin in the Tarrytown neighborhood late last week, according to KXAN, which shared video taken of the eagle. Then on Monday, someone posted an image of an eagle spotted over Austin Colony, east of the city, on Reddit.

“That is insane!” one onlooker says in the video.

“Where did he come from?” asks another.

Despite the surprise, bald eagles are not unheard of in Austin.

“You'll most often find them along the river,” says Shelia Hargis, a birder and former president of the Texas Ornithological Society. “There's been some sightings up at Walter E. Long Lake.”

Hargis says the number of sightings also seems to be increasing.

That’s backed up by reports to the website eBird, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. EBird allows birders to log sightings of different bird species. Hargis points out that the number of bald eagle sightings in Austin appears to be trending up on eBird over the last several years.

“Between 2012 and 2022 for just the breeding season, we have seen basically an 85% increase in the number of birds reported [on eBird] for the Austin area,” she says.

Hargis says that tracks with her personal observations. She believes the increase is thanks to the federal government banning the harmful insecticide DDT.

The DDT ban happened in the 1970s, when the bald eagle was threatened with extinction. Eagle populations have been recovering ever since.

“It's a success story,” Hargis says. “We don't always get many of those, so it's a really good story to tell.”

Still, Austin doesn’t have many bald eagles compared with some other locations.

The city is on the western edge of year-round and seasonal eagle territory in Texas, and a few dozen sightings appear to have been reported this year.

Want to see one for yourself?

Hargis says a good place to bird watch near Austin is the Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory at the wastewater treatment facility.

There's no guarantee you’ll spot an eagle, she says, but they’ve been seen there before.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at mbuchele@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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