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BALD EAGLES ARE BACK FOR ANNUAL STOPOVER

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The bald eagles are back, for their annual winter stopover in Utah, and the state Wildlife Resources Division hopes to introduce more Utahns to the annual visitors, officials said Wednesday.

"We're low in bald eagle production, but we're among the top five states for winter visitors because of our favorable weather and favorable prey," said Bob Walters, division wildlife program coordinator.In addition to its annual bald eagle census this year, the division will set up six viewing sites Feb.Saturday, Feb. 3 to help Utah residents identify and watch the big birds.

Traditionally more than 1,000 bald eagles from the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska spend each winter in Utah's rural areas.

"The highest count we've had would be in excess of 1,200 birds. But, because of the difficulty of obtaining an accurate count, I would think the total winter population was far more than the 1,200 at that time," said Walters.

The birds can be found statewide, but Walters said the west slope of the Oquirrh Mountains, about 30 miles southwest of Salt Lake City continues to be the most popular spot.

"We have about 100 birds in the Ophir Canyon area," on the southeast end of the Qquirrhs, he said, and another large group in a cottonwood grove near the tiny town of Vernon, about 20 miles southwest of Ophir Canyon.

"They seem to be very social birds during the roosting period at night," Walter said. "Then they'll spend most of the daytime looking for food."