There has been a population explosion of fish-eating birds in recent decades—much to the delight of birders, scientists and conservationists throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Bald eagles, osprey and great blue herons are on the rise. In addition, the 2013 Center for Conservation Biology survey shows that the population of great egrets has nearly tripled over the past 30 years.
Is overpopulation of these great water birds going to become a concern?
“There is certainly no issue with food,” says Bryan Watts, director of the CCB. “It’s not ever going to get to the point where the eagles, great blues and egrets are eating all of the fish. They eat a tiny bit of the Bay’s production—much smaller than we humans take—so there won’t ever come a time when fish predators are cleaning out the Bay.”
As residents continue to develop, build and occupy coastal properties, however, they are sometimes unwittingly creating landscapes that will also accommodate these highly-adaptive species of wildlife. And in other instances, development competes with wildlife—especially bald eagles—leading to legislative restrictions that can keep limit what a property owner can do on his or her property.“Since these species are protected, there is a social cost to having them,” says Watts. “So, I think that some people would say that we are at the saturation point – at least where the eagles are concerned.
Photo courtesy of the Center for Conservation Biology