Some good news for a change: Baby Eagle spotted in DC : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Eagle-Eyed Discovery

By D'Vera Cohn Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday , August 10, 2000 ; B01

A bald eagle hatched this year in a Southeast Washington tree, marking the first time in a half-century that the national symbol has nested in the nation's capital and challenging the notion that the birds do not settle near people.

Tipped off by a resident who saw a pair of eagles flying around with branches and twigs in their beaks, federal wildlife officials spotted them building the nest in January on National Park Service land near Bolling Air Force Base. But they decided to stay silent about the eagles because they did not want people bothering the birds during the crucial nesting season.

In March, the female eagle was sitting on the nest, and in April, a chick hatched. It has been flying on its own since late June--with wobbly landings at first but then more sure-footedly. Now, the eaglet and its parents still spend time near the nest, but not in it.

Wildlife officials are thrilled, because eagles have a reputation for being fussy about where they live. In this part of the country, they prefer a tall tree near the water, with branches strong enough to hold a nest that can be several feet tall. A good view, to spot potential predators, is vital. Until recently, scientists had thought eagles would not nest in developed areas.

The D.C. pair, though, is among a growing number of bald eagles challenging scientists' long-held belief that the species demand pristine living places away from people. Scientists are debating whether the urban birds are exceptions or proof that bald eagles are more adaptable than thought.

The eagle population in the Chesapeake Bay region has increased from at most 90 breeding pairs in 1970 to about 600 pairs today, including 72 pairs and 106 chicks along the Potomac, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Locally, eagles nest in every Potomac River jurisdiction near Washington except in Alexandria and Arlington County, with more than two dozen nests in Charles County. The Mason Neck area of Fairfax County also has a concentration of nests.

Among other examples is a pair of eagles in Oxon Hill that nested within earshot of a highway and had a chick this year. There are so many eagles in suburban Florida, including in some back yards, that state biologists are studying how they compare with birds in wilder areas. Eagles nest in Portland, Ore., on an island used for sand and gravel mining. And a bald eagles' nest was spotted this year in view of the governor's mansion in Olympia, Wash.

"The fact that there is habitat in Washington that can support an eagle is, I think, exciting news for Washington, D.C.," said Susan Rudy, an environmental specialist with the Park Service. "It's nice to see them back in the capital city."

Craig Koppie, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who is monitoring the eagles, said the nest in Southeast is probably the closest to downtown that eagles will live.

He does not believe eagles will ever lower their standards to nest in the heart of cities, as peregrine falcons have, but he believes there is potential for eagles to nest northwest of downtown.

From their perch, 80 feet high in an oak tree, these eagles have a view of the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral. Most of their diet is Potomac River fish, but Rudy said they also eat gulls and cormorants.

The chick, which will not develop the species' distinctive white head feathers for several years, is the first bald eagle known to be hatched in the city since the late 1940s, according to the Park Service. After that, loss of habitat and widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which weakened eagle eggs so that they were crushed in the nest, caused the population in the lower 48 states to plummet. The bird's numbers began rising after DDT was banned in 1972, and the Clinton administration is close to removing the bald eagle from the endangered species list.

In the Washington area, dozens of bald eagles nest along the Potomac River, so it is not uncommon to see them overhead.

The District nest is on Shepherd Parkway, a strip of park that can be seen from Interstate 295. The parent birds are not banded, meaning they were probably local residents that moved upriver, Rudy said. (An environmental group, Earth Conservation Corps, has raised eaglets in a treetop nest box at the National Arboretum for several years, hoping they will nest in the city when they reach breeding age, but none has done so.)

Rudy said Park Service officials knew eagles were in the area and hoped they would nest in the city some day. Then they got a call last winter from James L. Tolbert, who lives in Southeast. Tolbert told them that he and his son, James C. Tolbert, noticed two eagles flying through the neighborhood and were curious about what was going on. Park Service officials quickly tracked down the nest.

Now they hope for other chicks in years to come, because eagles often return to the same nest year after year. Park Service officials are deliberately vague about where the nest is and discourage people from looking for it and bothering the birds. The Tolberts are happy to oblige.

"I had no interest in finding the nest," said James C. Tolbert, who is working for the Park Service as a summer intern. "Things might fall out, and I'd rather not be under it."

) 2000 The Washington Post Company

-- Buddy (, August 10, 2000


This is so cool -- great news!! (Here's hoping the stupid "tourists" stay away.) Thanks for posting this, Buddy.

-- Patricia (, August 10, 2000.


Good information. We now have a lot here in the winter. I remember one Saturday last winter when I looked out the window and saw six sitting in trees in the backyard. Peregrine's are now the most common raptors here. Whatever we banned really worked.

Best wishes,,,,,

-- Z1X4Y7 (, August 10, 2000.


The main culprit appeared to be DDT. Besides banning it, credit is also due to some fairly aggressive predatory bird research programs which hatched young Peregrines and hacked them back into active nests, and relocated eagles from areas with large populations.

Gotta go -

-- flora (***@__._), August 10, 2000.

Good news---a balled eagle!

-- (, August 10, 2000.


The main culprit appeared to be DDT.

Yep, that is the dogma and is probably correct. You have to realize, that as a scientist, I will never give you an absolute answer. Too many variables. :^)

I hope the tags close on netscape. They haven't been.

Best wishes,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (, August 10, 2000.


I'm kinda funny about absolutes myself - but when you see such dramatic effects on varied populations such as the eagles, falcons, & brown pelicans - it can appear pretty persuasive.

-- flora (***@__._), August 10, 2000.

More Eagles. Don't worry. Shortly, there will be a lot more elephants in D.C. than now.

-- cpr (, August 10, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ