Pat’s Wildways: Bald Eagle Nests

A Crane Island bald eagle carries a bit of nesting material back to the nest. (Photo by Dawn Mayes)

By Pat Foster-Turley

I love it when one of my columns spawns another one. This happened again now. Last week, I described a walk in Crane Island Park where a bald eagle nest was featured, but with my distant shots — the best I could do with my iPhone. And now we have much better photos!

For a couple of years now, I’ve been hearing that this obvious eagle nest near the Crane Island boardwalk over the marsh is the subject of a 24/7 webcam called Northeast Florida Eagle Cam featuring two adults, Beau and Gabrielle. Check it out. It’s really fun to watch the live behavior of these two eagles as they tend to their eggs.

An adult Crane Island bald eagle watches over a fledgling in the nest. (Submitted photo)

But Beau and Gabrielle are not the eagles at the Crane Island nest despite all rumors to that effect. One recent morning I set out again to the Crane Island boardwalk with my cell phone connected to the eagle cam site, and the nest right in my field of vision. I spent some time studying the nest on the screen and right in front of me. The background of an expanse of trees didn’t fit the scene I was looking at, salt marsh to one side, houses and airport to the other. The tree’s shape didn’t look right either, although it was a large pine tree, but a different one. A noisy airplane flew overhead, but no such sound was registered on the camera feed. And, while I was looking at the nest in front of me I saw a wingtip of a bird above the nest’s rim. But on the camera, an adult eagle inside the nest was settled around an egg. More clues.

But I didn’t want to jump to conclusions just yet and I stood around waiting for an eagle to land near the nest and on screen as well. As I pondered all this, two gals walked up the boardwalk towards me, and I explained my project. One was a biologist friend who recently retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), walking with her friend. My friend immediately asked, “Is there a fledgling in the onscreen nest?” “No, only an egg.” “Wrong nest; I photographed an eaglet in the nest a couple of days ago, not an egg.” The mystery was solved, and wow, I got two great eagle photos for this column. Perfect!

Even though this local nest is not outfitted with a webcam, it is an amazing sight to see in person, especially if you come armed with binoculars and a telephoto camera. Just park in the Crane Island Park lot and follow the path to the marsh, then walk on the boardwalk and look to your left. There, a bit below the canopy of a large pine tree, is the nest, sometimes with eagles nearby. But don’t let me discourage you from looking at the webcam, too. It is not “our” eagles, but still, it affords beautiful close-up live footage of an eagle pair in action.

The eagle nest on the south end of Amelia Island is visible from the road. (Photo by Pat Foster-Turley)

At least two other active bald eagle nests are found on Amelia Island — one on the north end in Fort Clinch State Park and the other at the south end near the Nassau Sound Bridge. You can sometimes spot eagles flying around Fort Clinch or perched on a tall snag on Sawpit Island west of the Nassau Sound Bridge, but neither of these nests affords a close view of the nesting activity. There are other bald eagle nests in our area, too — you can find their location and information about their 2023 nesting season on the Audubon Eagle Watch site.

Bald eagles are a wonderful conservation success story. Bald eagles, our national symbol, were nearly exterminated by the widespread use of DDT in the 1950s, which caused their eggs to be fragile and nonviable. When DDT was banned, the eagle population recovered, and Florida now has the third highest density of bald eagles in the United States, after Alaska and Minnesota.

It is wonderful that we can watch majestic bald eagles all around us now. If you see an exceptionally large bird flying overhead with a white head and tail, it is one of our local bald eagles. And how cool is that?

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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Active Member
25 days ago

We are rich with wildlife and Bald Eagle nesting pairs. Thank you for clearing up the live-cam confusion! Your love for our wild Amelia is enjoyable to read

Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
25 days ago

Thanks, Pat, for helping to clear up the mystery of the bald eagle webcam. What’s even better than a webcam is, for those able, getting out and looking at and appreciating the wildlife that we have in real life and in person. Hopefully, that appreciation translates into voting for legislators who are conservation-minded.

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