- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Bald eagles have taken up residence in the District of Columbia for the first time in more than half a century, according to a recently released study.

The Chesapeake Bay Program, a multiagency group devoted to restoration of the Bay, says bald eagle populations in the Bay's watershed once as low as 90 breeding pairs have rebounded to their highest level in 23 years. Its latest survey counted 533 active nests with 813 fledgling eaglets nearly a 10 percent increase from 1999.

"The bald eagle is the symbol of the nation, and so being able to actually say that in the nation's capital the eagle can exist, the District should definitely be very proud," said Ira Palmer, program manager for the D.C. Fisheries and Wildlife Division.

The nest in the District is located on National Park Service land adjacent to Bolling Air Force Base in Southeast, near the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.

It was spotted last year with one eaglet inside. Susan Rudy, an environmental specialist with National Capital Parks East, confirmed that eagles have returned to the nest this year.

Ms. Rudy also said there are more bald eagles flying above the nation's capital than people might think.

"People would see them more often if they would just look up," she said.

She said eagles can regularly be seen in the wooded areas along the Interstate 295 corridor, and a nest with a male eagle that routinely acts as sentry can be spotted from the Beltway on the Maryland side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Bald eagles measure about 3 feet from head to tail, weigh 10 to 12 pounds and have a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet. They nest in hardwood trees, usually about 80 to 110 feet above the ground. The nests can be up to 8 feet wide and 4 feet deep.

The birds mate for life and typically occupy the same nests year after year. They lay one to three eggs in late winter, which hatch after 35 days, and usually leave their nests between June and July.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed has long had one of the densest concentrations of bald eagles in the nation.

In Virginia, 259 active nests produced 394 young, while in Maryland, 256 active nests produced 395 young. One active nest was found in the District with one young, and 17 nests with 23 young were discovered in Pennsylvania.

About 3,000 breeding pairs lived in the Bay watershed at one time, but the population dwindled to about 90 pairs in 1970. The drop was blamed in part on the pesticide DDT, which made the bird's eggs so brittle they cracked before the young eagles were ready to hatch. The use of DDT was banned in 1972.

In 1978, the bald eagle was listed as endangered through most of the United States. But in 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified the bald eagle as threatened. Its status is being reviewed after the agency moved to delist the bald eagle in June 1999, concluding it had fully recovered.

The Chesapeake Bay Program also credits the eagles' return to Baywide restoration that has improved the quality of local waters and forests.

"Just seeing the rescue of the bald eagle over the last decades is incredible," program spokesman Christopher Conner said. "If we can [revitalize] one species, there's hope we can do it for the whole Chesapeake Bay."

Mr. Conner said the primary obstacle to continued resurgence is shoreline development along the Bay. In order for bald eagle populations to continue to improve, they need suitable nesting trees near open water and a stable food supply, mostly fish, ducks, geese, rodents, snakes and turtles.

The Chesapeake Bay Program jointly run by surrounding states and the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that shoreline development will eliminate most large undisturbed forest tracts in the next 50 to 100 years.

But in the District, the high amount of park land could bode well for the bald eagle.

"I think the prime reason the park has a nest is we're protecting open spaces," Ms. Rudy said. "As long as that habitat is available, the trend [toward resurgence] should continue."

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