By Pat Foster-Turley
April 6, 2023
Bald eagles are everywhere these days, or so it seems. There was a time, not so long ago when bald eagles were in dire straits and disappearing. Eventually, it was discovered that the presence of DDT in the food chain that concentrated in their diet led to eggs with thin shells. And many thin-shelled eggs do not survive the incubation process. But DDT and other similar pesticides have been banned for a while now and bald eagles are making a comeback. Florida now has one of the greatest concentrations of bald eagle nests in the United States, surpassed only by Alaska and Minnesota. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that there are at least 1,500 nesting pairs in our state.
Bucko and I have been watching eagles near the Sister’s Creek Bridge off Heckscher Drive in Jacksonville. Most days when we drive down Heritage River Road to watch the boats, birds and picnickers we are greeted by an adult eagle perched on a pole watching our progress. The nest itself is difficult to spot but it is nearby.
Here on Amelia Island, there are three active nests and a number of other nests are around our area too. You can find out more information and locations of all recorded bald eagle nests in Florida using the new interactive map of nests provided by the Florida Audubon Society (https://fl.audubon.org/news/eaglewatch-launches-novel-nest-locator-map).
Bald eagles have just about finished their breeding season here, but if you look soon you will still find eagles on or near these nests. Adult eagles are often seen perching on high vantage points near these nests too, and with their distinctive white heads and tails and large size, they are hard to miss.
The easiest place to look for bald eagles is from the boardwalk on Crane Island. A pair of eagles has returned year after year to a nest on Crane Island, but they have had to move twice to build new nests when construction activity disturbed them. For the past few years, they have been using a nest across the marsh from this boardwalk. During the summer months, outside of eagle breeding time, new construction was rampant around this nest, causing some concern among birdwatchers. But these eagles are tenacious and returned again to this nest this year, now towering above a new home. Last year they did not successfully fledge any young from this nest, but just maybe this year will be a better one for the couple.
Another eagle couple has had a nest in Fort Clinch State Park for a number of years now on a tall dead pine tree, visible in the far distance from North 14th Street near the back gate of the park. Last year, however, disaster hit them when the tree was damaged in a storm and the nest was ruined. But now, eagles are back in the park in a new nest that is tucked away in the middle of the park, beyond viewing ease. Here’s hoping they have better fortune this year.
The third nest here is also viewable from a road. If you are driving towards Amelia Island on the Nassau Sound Bridge and look to your left, there at the edge of the marshes of Long Point you can see the nest, high in a tree. As of this writing, two eagles were still visible there. And if you can’t see them at the nest, you might be able to see one of the eagles perched on a tall tree on Sawpit Island near the fishing bridge.
If you are interested in bald eagles, there is an opportunity to be a citizen scientist to record data on their activities. The Florida Audubon Society has an Eagle Watch program that anyone can be part of to help monitor these birds. Check out this website for more information: https://cbop.audubon.org/conservation/about-eaglewatch-program. There are now about 600 volunteer eagle watchers recording information for this map and you can join them. Although the eagle breeding season is about over here, you can sign up now for next season. Who says there’s nothing to do on Amelia Island? Not me!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]