Fans of our national bird for the first time can now go online and pinpoint locations of bald eagle nests in Virginia, thanks to the efforts of the Center for Conservation Biology.
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A Google Maps application will allow users to locate known eagle nests and view their locations on a county-by-county basis. The VAEagles website marks the first time in the 54-year history of the center’s annual survey of nesting eagles that nest locations are made available to the public. The site shows the location of all known nests from the 2009 census survey.
“We’re making this information available in the hope that the public will become more actively involved with this species throughout Virginia,” said Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, a joint program of the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University. “We believe that breeding sites may be better protected in the long term if they are known to the public.”
Watts and other CCB scientists fly along the shoreline of the James River and other Chesapeake Bay tributaries each spring, logging the location of bald eagle nests. On Virginia’s coastal plain, the birds almost always nest in large trees near the channel of a large river. Watts said that he hopes the VAEagles site will prompt Virginians to report the location of nests that the Center for Conservation Biology hasn’t yet found.
“Despite our best efforts, an unknown number of eagle nests go unrecorded each year,” Watts said. “This is particularly true in the Piedmont and the mountains of Virginia where there is no survey effort.”
The 2009 Virginia bald eagle survey shows the number of known breeding pairs has increased nearly 5 percent—from 584 pairs in 2008, to 612 pairs in 2009. Watts said this number represents the highest number of breeding pairs ever recorded in the state. Despite widespread and early nest failures caused by a strong storm during the peak of incubation, the eagle parents recovered and produced 826 chicks. Chick production was second only to the record 2008 season. Since 2000, 6,240 chicks have been documented in the state. The upper reaches of the James and Rappahannock Rivers continue to provide the most significant breeding habitat for bald eagles in Virginia.