Bald Eagles

bald eagle soaring over nest with chicks
Brooks Island Eagles - April 2011

David Hypes

 

In the past, seeing a bald eagle in New River Gorge was a rare sight. Throughout the United States their numbers were severely reduced to the point that the bald eagle was listed as a threatened and endangered species. This was primarily due to the use of pesticides like DDT. After the banning of DDT, populations returned to the point where the bald eagle was removed from the list in 2007. In recent years, the thrilling experience of seeing a bald eagle soaring over the New River has become a much more common occurrence. But for how long will this last? Today, a major threat to the health of our eagle populations in West Virginia, and throughout the country, is lead poisoning. Lead, often originating from lead bullets and sinkers, has been a cause of major health issues for birds such as eagles and vultures, who often scavenge carcasses of deer and other wildlife that may harbor lead fragments.

 
bald eagle on nest
Bald eagle on nest on Brooks Island 2011

David Hypes

The Brooks Island Eagles

The first confirmed breeding pair of eagles in the park established a nest in the winter of 2009 to 2010. The nest was sighted in a large American sycamore tree on the downstream end of Brooks Island, in the southern part of New River Gorge National River. This pair of eagles laid two eggs in February 2010. Two eaglets hatched in March and were seen first taking flight in early June.

In the winter of 2011 the adult eagles returned to breed again and three chicks were hatched in early March. The pair returned in 2012 and had two more chicks. They returned again in 2013, but unfortunately the eggs did not hatch.

Tragedy struck in 2014 when the eagles were hit by a train. In 2015 a new pair took over the nest. The pair produced one egg that hatched, but the chick never fledged. The chick possibly died from a cold and wet spring season. Regrettably, in 2016 the pair and the nest failed again. Fortunately, in 2017 there were two chicks fledged.

Since 2010 there have been three different pairs of eagles using the nest on Brooks Island. One pair even built a new nest on the island and then went back to the nest in the sycamore tree.
New River Gorge is home to additional nests now. In 2017, in addition to the Brooks Island nest there have been two other nests spotted within the park, with at least one fledged chick.


 
bald eagle perched in a sycamore tree
Bald Eagle at Brooks Island, April 2011

David Hypes

Bald Eagle Life History

Both birds of a breeding pair share the responsibilities of building the nests, incubating the eggs and feeding the young eaglets. Nests are reused and expanded over the years sometimes growing to 5 feet in diameter, 3 feet in depth, and weighing several hundred to over one thousand pounds.
Nest building in West Virginia takes place from December to February. Egg laying typically begins in late January or February with two to three eggs incubating about 35 days. After hatching the eaglets spend 10 to 12 weeks in the nest. Initially they are brooded closely by at least one parent, but later they are left increasingly alone as both parents hunt to provide them with food. Mature eagles usually return to within 100 miles of where they hatched to nest on their own.

Eagles are not only exciting to see, but they are an important component of the natural ecosystem and an indicator of a healthy river environment.

 

Brooks Island Eagles Photo Gallery

photos by David Hypes
 
 

Last updated: August 11, 2017

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