Eaglet Success at Babbitt Ranchs Provides Evidence Conservation Measures Work

“On behalf of the Babbitt family and the entire Babbitt Ranches community, we are very excited to report on this success in the wild!”

Following unprecedented action by Babbitt Ranches to protect a golden eagle nest, the Arizona Department of Fish and Game reports a double success. A pair of eagles that had not been very successful in producing babies in the last 10 years gave birth to twins in late spring.

“This is very exciting,” said Kenneth “Tuk” Jacobson, raptor management coordinator for the AZGFD. “To see them produce two harriers, after the Babbitt Ranches Landsward Foundation had just implemented a handful of measures to try to help them, is very gratifying.”

The young eagles were discovered by an AZGFD helicopter team conducting surveys. “Billy Cordasco and the Landsward Foundation had previously been concerned about the number of hikers in eagle territory. If this impact on recreation continued, we were all worried that we would lose the nest.”

Jacobson says twins have been seen flying, which occurs around nine to 10 weeks after they are born. “As chicks, they stay in the breeding range, within a radius of about two miles, to learn how to survive and hunt from their parents, usually until October.”

From January through May, Babbitt Ranches had protected that two-mile radius, known as the SP Crater Golden Eagle Conservation Complex (SPEC). During that time, it was off limits to all recreationists, including hunters, hikers, and UTV users. The special rules were created through a unique conservation management agreement between the Landsward Foundation and AZGFD, which strictly prohibited target shooting, hunting, trapping and any other method of taking small game animals, and the use of lead bullets.

“On behalf of the Babbitt family and the entire Babbitt Ranches community, we are very excited to report on this success in the wild!” said president and general manager Billy Cordasco.

The conservation framework that was put together to test at the SP Crater Golden Eagle Conservation Complex was designed to improve productivity, but there was no documentation, no direct observable evidence available to show that this approach would work,” said Jacobson.

AZGFD research results reveal that golden eagle pairs will abandon their eggs if they feel threatened. “Productivity rates are definitely low in Arizona. We’re still processing numbers from last season, but there weren’t many active and successful breeding grounds this year due to factors like prolonged drought, rabbit hemorrhagic disease and limited prey resources,” said Jacobson.

In all the breeding areas in Arizona that have been tracked by AZGFD, only about a quarter of them produced two harriers. “Nine percent produced three offspring, which is extremely rare,” he said.

Babbitt Ranches has been monitoring golden eagles on the 750,000-acre ranch for more than a decade. The golden eagle pair in the SP crater area have been together for at least that long. During that time, the only other year it produced a harrier was 2018.

The SP Crater Golden Eagle Conservation Complex rules will remain in effect from January through May for at least the next two years, as researchers continue to monitor and study the birds of prey and their nesting success. fbn

By Bonnie Stevens, FBN