March 9, 2011

Bald eagles making a big comeback on the James River

Go eagles! 
Visit the eagle cam at Norfolk Botanical Garden for a closeup look into the nest.

James River eagles
The folks researching eagles in Virginia for the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) say that the eagles along the James River are having a baby boom soon. They have noted a record number of eagle nests and 165 breeding pairs along the James River in their recent low-altitude overhead flights (the researchers' flights, not the eagles!). That's up from the 154 breeding pairs seen last year. That's especially good news for the James River because the eagle population along this tributary were decimated by ketone, DDT and other pollutants three decades ago.
 
Later this spring, the CCB research team will do a second round of flights to check known nest locations for chicks, and will most likely find a few more nests. They are not difficult to see because some of them can be the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and weigh a couple of tons. One large pine with an eagles nest behind my home blew down in a huge windstorm a few years ago, and I was astounded by how large it was on the ground. The eagles returned the following year and established a new nest nearby.

CCB's 2011 survey marks the 50th consecutive season that the bald eagle population has been observed by air, making the survey the longest-running eagle census in the United States. It’s also the 35th consecutive year that William and Mary Professor Emeritus of Biology Mitchell Byrd (what an apt name) has surveyed the population.

CCB is a joint program of the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University. During the 2010 breeding season, they surveyed more than 900 nests throughout the lower Chesapeake, and documented more than 680 breeding pairs that produced more than 880 chicks. That's a true success story. Click here for the 2010 CCB study report.