The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary did a survey this year and found 1,070 occupied bald eagle nests. Since the survey began 60 years ago, this is the first time that more than 1,000 have been counted.
The state’s population of this bird had dropped to only 20 pairs in 1970, so this is a fantastic comeback, said Bryan D. Watts, who runs the center.
The eagle’s comeback in Virginia is part of a nationwide recovery hailed as a great conservation success story. This recovery was made possible by preserving habitat and banning some pesticides. The national bird was one of the first species to be put on the Endangered Species List in 1967. At one time, DDT and other pollutants killed off most of them. They were taken off the list in 2007, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that there are now 10,000 nesting pairs across the country.
Mitchell Byrd is a retired professor who has been doing the Virginia survey for 40 years. He never saw a nest along the James River when he first started. He is glad to see that there are so many bald eagles now. Byrd said, “It shows what we as a species are capable of if we put our minds to it.”
This year’s survey found nesting pairs in 57 counties and 12 cities in Virginia. Some of the highest concentrations were near the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. Many of their young, who didn’t yet have their famous white plumage, were also seen.
Eagles come from as far north as Canada and as far south as Florida to feed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in the summer and winter. Watts said they are running out of room to have babies, so their population growth should slow. One sign that they’re getting too crowded is that more injuries and deaths are caused by fights between the same species.
Another thing is how quickly a mate is changed. Bald eagles usually stay with the same partner for life, but Watts said that when one dies, “there is a string of suitors that come into that space right away.”