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Besnard Lake
Besnard Lake in Saskatchewan
Besnard Lake in Saskatchewan
Besnard Lake
Location in Saskatchewan
Location Saskatchewan, Canada
Coordinates 55°25′00″N 106°00′02″W / 55.4167°N 106.0005°W / 55.4167; -106.0005
Type lake
Max. length 43 km (27 mi)
Surface area 12,500 hectares (31,000 acres)
Max. depth 25 metres (82 ft)
Shore length1 400 km (250 mi)
Surface elevation 390 m (1,280 ft)
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Besnard Lake ( BEZ-nerd) is a lake in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, 370 kilometres (230 mi) north of Saskatoon and 50 km (31 mi) west of La Ronge. It supports a large population of bald eagles that have been the subject of ongoing studies since the 1960s.

The lake is 43 km (27 mi) from tip to tip with 400 km (250 mi) of shoreline. It has a surface area of 12,500 hectares (31,000 acres) and a maximum depth of 25 metres (82 ft), at an elevation of about 390 m (1,280 ft). At a narrows it is crossed by a bridge carrying provincial highway 910. This road was completed in 1973 and increased access to recreational fishing. There are over 250 islands on the lake, and the lakebed is rocky, making navigation difficult but creating a good habitat for fish. There are cabins, campgrounds and fishing camps on the lake. There is a 950 m (3,120 ft) airstrip 1 km (0.62 mi) south of the lake.

Besnard Lake is within the Churchill River drainage system. While much of the lake is in the Canadian Shield, its southern portion is in the boreal forest where the Mercer River brings nutrients which leads to healthy invertebrate populations that provide plenty of food for the fish which are the mainstay of the eagles' diet. They fish mainly for white sucker and cisco, and occasionally pike, walleye and burbot. Compared to the nearby and similarly sized Nemeiben Lake which is entirely on the shield, the eagle population has a higher density and stability.

Bald eagle studies

The bald eagle community at Besnard Lake has been studied continuously for 50 years following their discovery there by Jon Gerrard. In that time eagle population dynamics, behaviour, growth and migration have been studied, resulting in the publication of more than 50 scientific papers and the 1988 book The Bald Eagle: Haunts and Habits of a Wilderness Monarch. Over 800 eagles have been banded, and have been found to winter mainly between Iowa and Missouri, Wyoming and Montana, but some have been found as far south as Texas, Arizona and Southern California.

In the 1960s it was considered that bald eagles were rare in Canada away from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. In 1966 Gerrard found 18 nests with 27 young in the area. A more extensive aerial survey of the region in 1974 found 14,000 eagles. Besnard Lake was found to be a perfect area to study bald eagles in these boreal breeding grounds. The lake has provided habitat for a stable population of about 100 eagles since the 1970s.

One discovery was that the sex of immature eagles could be accurately and efficiently determined by measuring the size of the foot and length of the culmen on the beak. This led to the discovery that the sex of the young seems to be regulated by the quantity of food available, with more females (which are larger than the males) hatching when food is plentiful. On other lakes where food is less plentiful a higher ratio of males hatch.

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