Bald eagles making strong recovery in Virginia

July 1, 2016 by Alan Suderman
This undated photo provided by The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary shows a bald eagle. Virginia's bald eagle population is thriving with more than 1,000 breeding pairs spotting in the state this year. The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary announced Thursday, June 30, 2016, that its survey counted 1,070 occupied nests this year, the first time more than 1,000 have been counted since the survey started 60 years ago. (The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary via AP)

Virginia's bald eagle population is thriving at levels not likely seen since before the United States was a country, one of the nation's top eagle experts said Friday.

A total of 1,070 occupied bald eagle nests were counted in this year's survey by the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary. It's the first time more than 1,000 have been counted since the survey started 60 years ago.

This marks a remarkable comeback for the bird whose population had dropped to just 20 pairs in the state in 1970, said Bryan D. Watts, the center's director.

"The truth is, you have to go back to colonial times, likely, ... to see numbers like we see today," Watts told The Associated Press in an interview.

The eagle's resurgence in Virginia is part of a nationwide recovery, hailed as a great conservation success story involving habitat preservation and the banning of certain pesticides.

Once decimated by DDT and other pollutants, the national bird was one of the first species put on the Endangered Species List, in 1967. They were delisted in 2007, and there are now 10,000 nesting pairs nationwide, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mitchell Byrd is retired professor who has been doing the Virginia survey for 40 years. When he started, he wouldn't see a single nest along the James River. He's heartened to see so many now.

This undated photo provided by The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary shows bald eagles. Virginia's bald eagle population is thriving with more than 1,000 breeding pairs spotting in the state this year. The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary announced Thursday, June 30, 2016, that its survey counted 1,070 occupied nests this year, the first time more than 1,000 have been counted since the survey started 60 years ago. (The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary via AP)
"It's indicative of what we as a species can do," Byrd said, "if we set our minds to it."

This year's survey found nesting pairs in 57 Virginia counties and 12 cities, with some of the highest concentrations near the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. Many of their offspring—too young still to have their iconic white plumage—also were spotted.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is a prime feeding ground in both summer and winter, drawing the eagles from as far north as Canada and as far south as Florida.

Watts said their breeding space is now at a premium, so their population growth should begin slowing. An increasing number of injuries and deaths related to intra-species combat is one telltale sign of how crowded they've become.

Another is the speed at which a mate is replaced. Bald eagles typically mate for life, but when one partner dies now, Watts said "there is a string of suitors immediately that comes into that space."

Explore further: New eagle crowding nesting eagle pair

Related Stories

New eagle crowding nesting eagle pair

February 18, 2008

A pair of bald eagles nesting in Virginia's Norfolk Botanical Garden are used to being visited by people, but now must deal with an interloping female eagle.

In Boston area, the bald eagle population is soaring

February 4, 2016

People spotting bald eagles in the skies over the Boston area aren't hallucinating—there really are more of the majestic birds of prey setting up shop in the urban eastern areas of the state, experts say.

Eagles continue their advance along James River

June 26, 2015

The James River continues to be one of the best barometers of bald eagle recovery within the Chesapeake Bay and likely the nation. Not only does the breeding population continue to rise to new highs year after year, but the ...

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...

Researchers discover new material to help power electronics

March 18, 2019

Electronics rule our world, but electrons rule our electronics. A research team at The Ohio State University has discovered a way to simplify how electronic devices use those electrons—using a material that can serve dual ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.