After studying the negative effects of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on Bald Eagle nest productivity during the 2021-2022 season, I approached the start of the 2022-2023 Florida Bald Eagle nesting season with trepidation.
Thankfully, documented cases of HPAI were almost nil this year, but Florida’s eagles faced another formidable foe in the form of Hurricane Ian that made landfall on our southwest coast. My heart broke to see the photos of homes and nests lost to Hurricane Ian, but then later, was equally inspired by the resilience of our volunteers and the eagles that returned to rebuild. Volunteers were eager to resume monitoring and provided critical data to document which nests had been destroyed, which nests had been rebuilt, and any newly discovered nest locations.
Our valuable monitoring data from the 2022-2023 season revealed that roughly 150 Bald Eagle pairs lost their nests to Hurricane Ian, but 70% of those pairs rebuilt and made a nesting attempt. The efforts to rebuild, along with the inferior condition of many remaining trees, took a toll on nest productivity for pairs affected by the hurricane. Fewer of the rebuilt hurricane nests (66%) fledged chicks compared to the non-hurricane-impacted nests (80%), but we still celebrate the 109 chicks that the impacted eagle pairs successfully raised.
While hurricane and disease outbreaks may be unpredictable, the greater and more persistent threats to eagles in Florida include the steady loss of habitat to development, the
rise in environmental toxins in the ecosystem that affect food resources, more intense storms from climate change, and other human related impacts, including car strikes
and electrocutions. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our volunteers and the support of our donors, the EagleWatch Program will continue to work on the front lines of Bald Eagle conservation, documenting, monitoring and protecting nests in order create a bright future for Florida’s Bald Eagles.
Shawnlei Breeding, EagleWatch Program Manager
This letter originally appeared in the 2022-23 EagleWatch Report.