Bald Eagles Know Where They Are Loved And Protected – And It’s Florida
Recently, a distressed bald eagle checked into the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier. The eagle suffered from a genetic beak deformity that made it difficult to eat. The deformity causes the top part of the beak to become overgrown and not properly align with the bottom part. The deformity caused the eagle to become malnourished and sickly. As if the eagle knew exactly where to go for help, it checked itself into the Florida rehab…literally. According to the Miami Herald:
Days before America’s birthday, the national symbol made a visit to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier.
A juvenile bald eagle, likely less than a year old, flew into the Tavernier center Friday, apparently lured by the smell of food being doled out to resident turkey vultures by facility technician Dave Bingham.
“Dave’s mouth hit the floor in awe,” Executive Director Joan Scholz said. “The bald eagle was extremely hungry and thin. It came to the perfect place to get help.”
Bingham and other staff members at the Wild Bird Center were able to capture the hungry and thin bird and it will be properly cared for. After surgery at a treatment center near Miami, the bird has an 80% chance of being released. The eagle was in distress and somehow knew exactly where to go for help – in Florida. Thanks to decades of conservation efforts, Florida is a safe place for bald eagles.
Bald eagles had all but disappeared from the lower 48 states by the mid 20th century. In 1973, estimates were that only about 417 pairs were left in the United States. In 1973 there were 88 bald eagle nests in Florida.
Thanks to conservation, bald eagles are back in Florida. According to KeysNews.com:
Conservation efforts have seen that number to grow to 1,457 nests in Florida by 2011…Statewide, the eagle population in 2011 was up 9 percent since 2008, when the state implemented a bald eagle management plan, said Michelle Van Deventer, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) bald eagle plan coordinator.
“Bald eagles have made a remarkable recovery in Florida,” FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright said in a media statement Tuesday. “The FWC and Audubon are working together to protect bald eagles in Florida, so these majestic raptors will continue to soar as a symbol of national pride and conservation success.”
In the mid 1900s, the population of bald eagles began to decline significantly. This was due to the now banned pesticide DDT. DDT causes the egg shells of eagles to weaken and break under the weight of the mother during incubation. DDT is gone, but threats still exist:
A predominant one is something Florida has seen on a major scale in recent decades — development, Van Deventer said. The state now prohibits any development or new road construction within 100 feet of an eagle nest.
A healthy and stable eagle population in Florida depends on continued availability of appropriate nesting and foraging habitats, as well as protection from disturbance during the nesting season, according to the FWC.
“They need space to effectively raise their young,” Van Deventer said.
According to EarthTimes.org, the Florida Wildlife Commission works with Audubon Florida to help protect and monitor bald eagles in the state:
Audubon Florida has carried out an EagleWatch program for 20 years where locals monitor one-fifth of bald eagles and their nests across the state to help protect and conserve the species.
Aubudon also helps landowners across the state to protect the habitat of bald eagles through the Cooperative Kissimmee Eagle Sanctuary Program, which has been running 50 years.
Most of the bald eagle nests in the state are located around the coast and freshwater areas, including the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and in Osceola and Polk counties.
Their well-being today depends on them finding suitable foraging and nesting habitats and not being disturbed while raising young.
Bald eagles are not officially endangered or threatened, but law and state regulation protect them. It is against the law to feed bald eagles, disturb them or possess a bald eagle, its feathers, eggs or nest.
And according to the Palm Beach Post:
They are here in Palm Beach county,” said Cynthia Plockelman, President of the Audubon Society of the Everglades. “Out in Belle Glade they are actually common on some days.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in partnership with Florida Audubon, implemented a bald eagle management plan which, among other things, establishes a 660-foot buffer around bald eagle nests. FWC monitors activities in the buffer zones that could disturb the birds, from tree-trimming to building a swimming pool.
Untrained observers often mistake osprey for bald eagles, Plockelman said. However, eagles are much larger than osprey. Eagles prefer to nest in trees, while osprey often build their nests on platforms on top of utility poles.
The Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission has an online, interactive Florida Bald Eagle Nest Locator with information that is current from the 2010 – 2011 nesting season. “Accuracy of the nest locations is estimated to be within 0.1 miles of the true location” according to the site. Of course, the site does not contain locations for every bald eagle nest in Florida, only the ones discovered in the survey are mapped. There are many more that have not been located. Using the locator, I found out that there are 57 bald eagle nests withing 30 miles of my home and 138 nests in forest areas within driving distance:
Florida is home to many species of birds and is in the path of many more migrating species. Florida is a birders paradise.
The Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission has created the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail which is:
A network of nearly 500 sites throughout Florida selected for their excellent birdwatching, wildlife viewing or educational opportunities.
This 2,000-mile, self-guided highway trail is designed to conserve and enhance Florida’s wildlife habitats by promoting birding and wildlife viewing activities, conservation education and economic opportunity.
The trail is an excellent family activity for people interested in Florida birdwatching. On the website, its resource pages include a wonderful listing of bird species and trail locations. There is also a tool for planning “your next trip in search of native birds.”
We live in an area of Northeast Florida where birds thrive. We regularly see egrets, herons, and osprey. Our yard attracts sparrow, jay, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and many migrating birds. Sometimes we hear whippoorwill at night. There is an owl that nests in a nearby tree every year. We know when it’s there because our cats run and hide from it – good kitties! And we have spotted bald eagles near our home on occasion, usually on their way to areas south.
Bald eagles are back in Florida and are a testament to conservation efforts. The distressed eagle that flew into the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center seemed to know that Florida is a safe place for birds and it knew exactly where to go. Let’s keep it that way.
By Jim Weeks
Sources And Related Information:
KeysNews: Eagles are conservation success story
Earth Times: Bald eagle population increasing in Florida
Palm Beach Post: Eagle numbers soaring in Florida
Featured Image: Bald Eagle Nest At Kennedy Space Center from nasa.gov