Barrier Island Birds of Winter
A bald eagle sighting in the wild is memorable. It’s possible to glimpse these magnificent birds around this northeast Florida barrier island. Whether spotted soaring high above Egans Greenway in Fernandina, seen perched on a tall pine tree or right on the beach at Amelia Island State Park, it’s a thrill. The eagle photos here were taken during November and December over the past few years around Amelia Island.
Some may be surprised to learn that Florida “is home to more nesting pairs than any other state with the exception of Alaska and Minnesota,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). While the sunny southern penninsula is about as contrary as can be in climate to Alaska, bald eagles apparently thrive in Florida. While breeding populations in North America are greatest in Alaska and Canada, there are eagle populations “in each of lower 48 states” according to the USFWS, with “significant” population in the Sunshine State.
An American Comeback Story
Those who were around in the 60s and 70s may recall the sad plight of the bald eagle. Back then, this national symbol was on its way to extinction in the lower 48 states, had it not been for intervention. Besides being symbolic of America, the bald eagle represents one of the top success stories of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, legislation that broadened and strengthened protection for plants and animal species in the USA.
“Bald eagles in Florida return to nest territories in the fall to begin nest building or repair. Their breeding season may extend to late April or May when young are able to fly. Most eagle nests are in native pine trees. In Florida, females typically lay a clutch of 1-3 eggs between December & early January with incubation about 35 days,” according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The Florida statewide bald eagle monitoring survey (FWC) of the 2013/2014 breeding season recorded “1,499 breeding territories,” (i.e. breeding pairs). Eagles are described by the FWC as “highly social” when not nesting, but “extremely territorial” during nesting season.
Please be aware of eagle ettiquette and remain a far distance away from the bird(s). Pay attention to the bird’s behavior — any activity that changes the eagle’s behavior is considered a “disturbance.” Always use a telephoto lense, scope or binoculars to get a better look rather than approaching. If by chance you discover a nest, stay way back — at least 660 feet. Eagles remain protected by the FWC and the USFWS. See the state’s eagle rule F.A.C. 68A-16.002 (more info here) to learn more about how it is illegal to disturb or take an eagle in Florida.
Bald Eagle’s Recovery in Lower 48 States
Below is a graph of bald eagle breeding pair populations from lows of 487 in 1963, to 9,789 in 2006. In 2007, the recovery of eagle population led to the removal of the bird from threatened status. The culprits responsible for their demise included pesticides, habitat destruction and illegal shootings. In particular, after WWII, the pesticide DDT was being widely used and contaminated the bird’s food supply (eagles were being poisoned by eating tainted prey).
“From Sea To Shining Sea”
Chosen by America’s forefathers as representative of “strength, courage and freedom,” the bird’s symbolic significance began back in 1782 when the eagle landed on the “Great Seal of US.” Its importance has endured through centuries. Today, anyone with a quarter or dollar is carrying around the eagle’s image.
Spotting this special bird in the wild in Florida is a treat. A stroll at the seashore at times can be chilly during northeast Florida’s wintertime, but extraordinary if an eagle has landed at the beach. They sometimes can be sighted, perched, in Amelia Island State Park on the southend or soaring above.