Monday, September 25, 2023

James River bald eagles reach symbolic milestone of 300 pairs

Bald eagle in an unusual “spread eagle” pose on a nest near Hopewell along the James River. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Bryan Watts)
Bald eagle in an unusual “spread eagle” pose on a nest near Hopewell along the James River. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Bryan Watts)

The Center for Conservation Biology has compiled 2019 survey results for bald eagles nesting along the James River.

CCB Director Bryan D. Watts reports that the breeding population has increased to 302 pairs, making the James the most significant tributary for eagles throughout the Commonwealth.

“This new milestone is particularly gratifying since the James is the only major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay where the species completely disappeared as a breeder during the 1970s,” Watts said.

During the 2019 breeding season, the population produced 344 young. Strongholds along the river include Charles City County (62 pairs), James City County (50 pairs), Surry County (39 pairs) and Prince George County (36 pairs).

Watts added that the 300-pair mark represents a symbolic milestone: In 1990, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Bald Eagle Recovery Team established 300 pairs as the recovery goal for the entire Chesapeake Bay.

 “For the James River alone to have surpassed this goal is a remarkable achievement,” Watts said. “The James now supports one of the densest breeding populations found anywhere throughout the species range.”

Based on subsampling, the population for the tidal reach of the broader Chesapeake Bay is now estimated above 3,000 breeding pairs — ten times the initial recovery goal and the largest in eastern North America.

The CCB has been conducting annual census surveys of the bald eagle breeding population since 1977. The Center for Conservation Biology is a joint program of William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Bald Eagle Timeline for the James River

1950s – 23 pairs known to nest

1963 – An adult female was found on Jamestown Island dying of DDT poisoning

1972 – DDT was banned in United States

1975 – No breeding pairs remain

1980 – A single breeding pair established nesting territory

1990 – 18 breeding pairs found

2000 – 57 breeding pairs found

2013 – 204 breeding pairs found

2019 – 302 breeding pairs found

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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