The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been the National Emblem since 1782. Here in Florida, we are lucky to support the highest number of breeding pairs in the lower 48 states. However it hasn’t always been this way. In 1973 there were only 88 breeding pairs and they continued to remain on the Endangered Species List. However, due to conservation efforts, by 2007 they were removed from the Endangered Species List, and currently there are roughly 1340 breeding pairs and 2297 nests.
The Bald Eagles start to build their nests in late September and can start laying eggs as early as October. In Florida, Bald Eagles try to nest away from heavily developed areas, in deciduous trees, mangroves, and cactus adjacent to large bodies of water.
Bald Eagles are one of the largest birds in North America and their nests certainly showcase their size. The largest Bald Eagle nest on record is in St. Petersburg, Florida and was 2.9 meters wide, 6.1 meters deep and weighed almost 3 tons. Nests can take up to three months to build, and are often reused year after year. Both sexes put a lot of time and effort creating a cozy nest for their young. They gather sticks that they weave together and fill in the cracks with grass and moss. The inside of the nest are lined with downy feathers and sometimes sprigs of greenery.
Bald Eagles can live roughly 28 years in the wild. Juveniles will spend the first four years as nomadic explorers. They can fly hundreds of miles per day seeking out adventure and tasty meals. Their diet consists of primarily fish, but when fish are not available they will hunt mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. They are also known for scavenging for food by harassing other birds, eating carrion and even garbage.
Even though their numbers have increased over the years, Bald Eagles are still susceptible to many environmental hazards here in Florida. Increased development of the shoreline and hurricane force winds are amongst the most threatening to their nests. We have been watching a pair of Bald Eagles return to the same nest for the past 7 years. Sadly this past January, their nest was destroyed by the high force winds of Hurricane Sandy. We think there might have been eggs in the nest given that their incubation period is between 34-36 days. However, hope is not lost here at SAET, because sightings of the bald eagle pair have been spotted weekly. As many humans start to rebuild their homes in the north, so too will the Bald Eagles. We eagerly await their selected nesting spot.
Resources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Source: St Augustine Eco Tours / Baret News Wire