Volunteers for the National Eagle Center in southeastern Minnesota counted more golden eagles than ever before during its 11th annual survey.

The volunteers covered southeastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin and eastern Iowa on Jan. 17 to tally a preliminary total of 136 golden eagles in the area. Last year, volunteers counted 112.

The increased number of sightings could be because there were more observers than usual, according to a news release from the center. The center's volunteer base has grown since its first year from 24 to more than 180 this year, said the center's education director, Scott Mehus.

But Mehus said it also has to do with the experience of the observers. Golden eagles tend to migrate to the same area every winter, Mehus said, so he asks volunteers to search for them at the same location each year.

The previous record count for golden eagles was 132 in 2013. In general, the number has been trending up; there were 70 spotted in 2009.

Golden eagles that migrate to Minnesota for the winter spend the summer about 2,000 miles north in Canada, where they raise their families, Mehus said.

Volunteers counted other raptors as well and recorded more than 1,700 bald eagles.

Mehus said the survey is important in raising awareness about the golden eagles because the open habitat they prefer is being overtaken by trees in the state.

Anne Millerbernd is a student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

Anne Millerbernd • 651-308-7126