Bald eagles make impressive recovery in Florida
By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
5:31 p.m. EDT, July 3, 2012
Bald eagles in Florida continue to expand their range, establishing new nests and securing the future of species that once appeared close to extinction.
The number of active bald eagle nests in Florida hit 1,457 in the latest count, up nearly 9 percent from 2008, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Tuesday, in a news conference timed for eve of the July 4 holiday.
A well-known eagle's nest stands off Pines Boulevard in Pembroke Pines. In Palm Beach County, which offers more of the tall pine trees favored by eagles, there are now 14 nests, four of which were discovered last year.
After a rough 150 years or so, when Florida's eagles were hunted for feathers for ladies' hats, bulldozed out of their trees for housing developments and – most important – poisoned with the insecticide DDT, the majestic birds have staged one of the most impressive recoveries of any species. Down to 88 active nests in 1973, they have repopulated their old range and established nests on the fringes of cities.
"I think very few people know how close the nation came in the 1960s to losing its national symbol to extinction," said Charles Lee, advocacy director for Audubon of Florida, which operates a birds of prey center in Maitland that has rehabilitated and returned to the wild 450 bald eagles.
The nest in Pembroke Pines, west of Interstate 75, has seen at least nine eaglets hatch, said Ken Schneider, a member of South Florida Audubon who blogs at rosyfinch.com. Although the first eight successfully flew off, the most recent eaglet, hatched in January, did not.
"It did well but disappeared suddenly when it was about 62 days old," Schneider said. "It was not quite ready for flight. We searched for it under and around the nest to no avail, and never saw it again."
Florida eagles are up to 20 percent smaller than their northern cousins. But they are abundant, representing the largest eagle population in the United States, outside of Minnesota and Alaska.
"I think the reason we have so many is they have good foraging opportunities," said Michelle van Deventer, the wildlife agency's Bald Eagle Management Plan coordinator. "About 80 percent of their diet is fish, and Florida being surrounded by water gives them lots of opportunities to find their favorite food."
Despite the banning of DDT, threats remain. Once the economy recovers, land development may crank into gear again. Although it's illegal to destroy an eagle's nest, state law allows development within 660 feet of one, provided the developer takes steps to minimize the impact.
Lee called for the federal government to move forward with funding the planned Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, which would be assembled from agricultural land north of Lake Okeechobee. With lakes, rivers, open range and tall trees, this is ideal bald eagle habitat, he said. About 600 active nests stand in Osceola, Polk, Okeechobee and Orange counties – more than the total that existed in the lower 48 states in the mid-1960s, he said.
"The concern that we have for the eagle is loss of habitat. We already are seeing competition for nesting sites and signs in some areas that development is excluding nesting sites and pushing nesting sites together."
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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This is encouraging. However there are many other threats. Read the news from Decorah, Iowa on July 3.
We are very sorry to announce that D12 is dead. D12 was found electrocuted at the base of a power pole on a Sunday morning. We notified the power company, who modified the top of that pole on Sunday and several other poles in the area on Monday. As of this morning, they are continuing to identify and modify poles to make them raptor safe. If you find an electrocuted raptor or other bird by a pole, take it to the nearest wildlife center (if it is still alive) and contact your state DNR or local game warden and the utility company that owns the pole. You will need to:
1. Provide information about the dead or injured bird.
2. Identify the nearest pole to the electrocuted raptor by the pole identification number (on the pole itself) and local landmarks such as cross streets or street addresses (if applicable).
Include as many specifics as you can regarding the species and the incident. If possible, take photographs of the raptor and the pole to submit with your reports and notes.
Power lines themselves are not an electrocution hazard for birds (birds can and do sit on wires), but unshielded poles can be dangerous. The Avian Protection Plan Guidelines include information on raptor safe poles and modification of existing poles. New structures are fairly safe, but older poles may not be. Older poles may have been installed either before people were aware of electrocution hazards to wildlife, or during the decline of raptor populations in America, when interaction was less likely. Here is a link to more information about birds and utility structures, including poles: http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/CurrentBirdIssues/Hazards/APP/AVIAN%20PROTECTION%20PLAN%20FINAL%204%2019%2005.
Thanks, Georgia. That is very sad news about the electrocution death of the oldest of the three Decorah eaglets. In the case of the FPL distribution lines directly in front of the Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle nest, the company has taken all possible precautions. For example, insulation has been extended along the wires well beyond the poles.
Despite this, there is always the chance that an eagle's wing tips may make simultaneous contact between two live wires or one and a grounded object. Wires may be a direct hazard if an eagle fails to see them and collides. To reduce the risk of such a collision, FPL placed bright yellow "curly-Q's" on the wires to increase their visibility to birds.
A couple of years ago I saw one of the local eaglets attempt to roost on the top wire immediately in front of the nest. It perched only momentarily and then flew off.
Only about 1 in 10 eagles survive a full year after their first flight. Most are said to die of starvation after leaving the care of their parents. (See this recent post). Since young eagles are not adept hunters they seek the company of vultures, in search of carrion. Eating road-kill, they may be struck by motor vehicles.
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