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Bald Eagle Pair Ready for Their Close-Up

Eagle nest cam launches in Richmond; Ustream video monitoring part of VCU-William and Mary conservation study

Along the James River, where the river is shallow and flows over the rapids, a busy pair of bald eagles is building a nest in an 85-foot loblolly pine, preparing to lay eggs.

And now Richmonders and bird enthusiasts around the globe will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of life as a bald eagle – from egg, to hatchling, to young fledgling ready to take flight – through live streaming video on Ustream.

This Richmond nest is one of 16 nests along the James being monitored via eagle nest cam by researchers with the Center for Conservation Biology – a partnership between researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and The College of William and Mary. This team of researchers is working toward restoration and management of the bald eagle in Virginia.

For more than 35 years, the Center for Conservation Biology, together with government agencies and colleagues, has been monitoring the Virginia bald eagle populations in Virginia, conducting a number of studies to better understand the species and its habitat and to develop ways to appropriately manage the population.

Little is known about the behavioral interactions of sub-adult and adult eagles around active nests, but researchers hope that through the current Center for Conservation Biology bald eagle tracking project more can be learned about the behavior, biology and ecology of this raptor.

The Virginia bald eagle has suffered dramatic population declines due to loss of habitat resulting from land clearing and development, hunting and collecting, and overfishing. Researchers have reported that it was the widespread use of pesticides in the mid-1940s that has contributed to the “deepest phase of the population decline” due to a presence of DDT and residues present in the food chain. However, following the 1972 ban of DDT and similar compounds, the population began to recover and produce offspring consistently.

“As our nation’s symbol, bald eagles are one of the most recognizable wildlife species in the world and a species dear to the American public,” said Bryan Watts, Ph.D., director of the Center for Conservation Biology. “Understanding their ecology is an important step toward responsible stewardship.”

The Richmond Pair

Researchers at the Center for Conservation Biology have been monitoring this eagle pair – a male and female – since the mid-1990s, and initially observed them on an island out in the James. At that time, the James supported only 32 pairs of breeding eagles, and this pair did not produce any chicks during their first year. But in 2001 the pair moved to the current area in the western part of Richmond and has returned to nest there for the past 10 years, producing 18 chicks.

In 2011, the pair produced two chicks and was one of 174 pairs of breeding eagles documented along the James River.

“Because more than 75 percent of the breeding pairs in Virginia nest on private lands, it is critical that landowners become integral partners in their long-term management,” Watts said. “How we manage our collective lands will determine the future of this population.”

Eagle education

For more than 55 years, the Center for Conservation Biology has conducted an annual Virginia bald eagle nest survey that provides a host of ecological information on a bird species recovering within an increasingly human-dominated landscape. The survey, which is conducted via plane, boat and car, involves all tributaries of the lower Chesapeake, as well as other bodies of water. The 2011 survey monitored activity for more than 1,000 nest structures and those locations are being shared through a CCB-developed VAEagles website.

In 2007, the Center for Conservation Biology partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense to start one of the largest eagle tracking projects in the world. Using GPS transmitters, the project records movements throughout the Chesapeake Bay and beyond in an effort to understand how eagles use the landscape and how they relate to humans.

According to Watts, researchers deployed transmitters on 67 eagles and so far transmitters have recorded approximately 800,000 GPS locations and are revealing patterns of movement throughout eastern North America. More than 200 communal roosts have been located within the Chesapeake Bay and have supported previous center research that has identified concentration areas for non-breeding eagles.

Visit the eagle nest cam at http://www.ustream.tv/richmondeagles#utm_campaign=synclickback&source=http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/local/richmond-eagle-cam/&medium=9907628.

An adult bald eagle. Image courtesy of John DiGiorgio/ Center for Conservation Biology
An adult bald eagle. Image courtesy of John DiGiorgio/ Center for Conservation Biology
A pair of eight-week-old bald eagle chicks. Image courtesy of Bryan Watts/Center for Conservation Biology
A pair of eight-week-old bald eagle chicks. Image courtesy of Bryan Watts/Center for Conservation Biology
An adult bald eagle in the nest. Image courtesy of Bryan Watts/Center for Conservation Biology
An adult bald eagle in the nest. Image courtesy of Bryan Watts/Center for Conservation Biology
A bald eagle chick in the nest. Image courtesy of Bryan Watts/Center for Conservation Biology
A bald eagle chick in the nest. Image courtesy of Bryan Watts/Center for Conservation Biology