Eagles Nesting in Trees and on Beaches
Living near the Chesapeake Bay, I am fortunate to be able to see Bald Eagles most days year-round
when out and about. I also love to look for and know where many active nests are located.
Scanning the tree tops of their favorite Loblolly pines is perfect now in locating them before
surrounding leafy trees sprout. Here are a few recent nest photos.
Bald Eagle Nest seen from Observation Boardwalk – Blackwater NWR
Today, the Chesapeake Bay region hosts the largest concentration of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states, where there are over 1200 pairs of Bald Eagles currently breeding.
Bald Eagle nests average 4-5 feet in diameter and 2-4 feet deep. An Eagle pair will keep and control their nest year-round. Each fall, they begin preparing it, adding another 1-2 feet of nesting materials. By late January to early March, the female will lay her eggs which will hatch in about 30 days. So our area Eagle nests have chicks in them. 🙂
Interesting fact: The largest recorded Bald Eagle nest was in St. Petersburg, Florida, at 9.5 feet diameter, 20 feet deep, and weighed approximately 3 tons. That was one hefty nest!
Another Bald Eagle Nest – Blackwater NWR
I know of several other nests that can be seen from the roads surrounding Blackwater NWR, and
there are many more unseen. Even while driving backroads, I’ve sighted many nests.
It is pretty cool to see Bald Eagles flourishing, knowing they were at one time on our federal
endangered species list.
Bald Eagle Nest – Queen Anne, MD
Those were all Bald Eagle treetop nests. I had also mentioned in my post title of Eagle beach nests.
I recently read and thought interesting to share The Center for Conservation Biology’s article
on Eagles beach-nesting on the barrier islands of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a little over a
hundred miles south of me.
Eagles nesting on open beaches?
Read on for the full article and amazing photos.
Eaglet in a new beach nest found on south Ship Shoal Island by Alex Wilke on 1 March 2019. A horned grebe was the prey of the day in the nest. Photo by Alex Wilke.
The beach nests discovered in early 2019 represent the 4th and 5th ground nests constructed on the Virginia Barrier Islands in recent years. On 26 April 2013, while flying shorebird surveys along the barrier islands, Bryan Watts and Barry Truitt discovered an eagle nest built on the ground on the north end of Little Cobb Island. On 5 June 2013, while conducting surveys for beach-nesting birds, Ruth Boettcher discovered an eagle nest built on the ground on Cedar Island. On 1 June 2018 Bryan Watts and Bart Paxton, while flying colonial waterbird surveys, located an eagle nest built on a log on the back side of Wreck Island. These previous ground nests were in the dunes or on the back side of the islands. What makes the two new nests different is that they were located between the primary dune and the active surf zone, a position subject to overwash during high tides or storms and a place normally reserved for nesting plovers, terns, and oystercatchers.
Nest out on the beach on north Smith Island with adult brooding small eaglets on 30 March 2019. Photo by Bryan Watts.
Adult attending young on nest built on a log along the edge of the marsh on the back side of Wreck Island – 30 March 2018. Photo by Bryan Watts.
As with the other sea eagles, bald eagles are tree nesters. Outside of the treeless Arctic, ground nests are very rare. Only a few have been found since the late 1800s, and most of these have been on predator-free offshore islands with examples coming from British Columbia, coastal Texas, and isolated mangrove keys in Florida Bay. The ground nests represent a larger movement of nesting eagles from the mainland of the Delmarva Peninsula out to the barrier islands. On a survey of the islands conducted on 30 March 2019, Bryan Watts and Mitchell Byrd located 14 active nests on the islands including 1 nest on Fisherman Island, 2 nests on Smith Island, 1 nest on Ship Shoal Island, 1 nest on Wreck Island, 1 nest on Little Cobb Island, 2 nests on Hog Island, 1 nest on Revel Island, 2 nests on Parramore Island, 2 nests on Wallops Island, and 1 nest on Chincoteague Island. All of these nests had either young or incubating adults. Despite the abundant prey around the islands, there is little recorded history of eagles nesting on the islands. Prior to 1960 we know of a single record of a pair on Parramore Island. Beginning in the mid-2000s pairs started to nest on a couple of the northern islands, and by 2010 a pair colonized Parramore Island. By 2011 there were 4 nests on the islands and by 2016 there were 11 nests.
Adult attending young eaglet on a nest in the dune of Little Cobb Island. Photo by Bryan Watts.
Please remember to always keep a safe distance from active eagle nests – for your safety and to avoid disturbing the nesting pairs and their young. Please also remember that most of Virginia’s barrier islands are owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Use policies and seasonal closures are in place to protect nesting birds – contact the appropriate organization for more information.