EagleWatch started in 1992 with 22 volunteers monitoring nests in three Central Florida counties with the goal of documenting nests and protecting them from disturbance so that future generations of Floridians might enjoy seeing this iconic species. At that time, Bald Eagles were still on the federal list of Threatened and Endangered Species. With protections, Florida’s population of Bald Eagles grew from less than 100 nesting pairs in the 1970s to 600 by 1992, but eagles still faced multiple threats and pressures in Florida from the rapidly growing human population.
Fast forward 30 years and EagleWatch has grown to more than 600 volunteers monitoring 1100+ nests in 53 counties. EagleWatch data and observations prompted additional nest protections from both federal and state wildlife agencies, and today Florida’s eagle population has made an amazing recovery and is now considered stable, with approximately 2,500 nesting pairs.
EagleWatch remains the only ongoing Bald Eagle nest monitoring program in Florida, and data collected by our volunteers helps state and federal wildlife biologists track the health of the population and identify and mitigate emerging threats. As just two examples, data collected by EagleWatch volunteers last season documented impacts of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak, and this fall volunteers kept careful observations on how eagle nests fared during Hurricanes Ian and Nicole and alerted law enforcement when debris-clearing efforts threatened eagle nests.
Our team continues to report nest violations to both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, providing “eagle eyes” on vulnerable nests and allowing both agencies to update their nest protection protocols as threats evolve over time.
Looking forward, as Florida’s landscape continues to change, the mission of the EagleWatch program remains the same: the conservation of nesting eagles in Florida through nest location documentation and monitoring, advocacy to protect both nests and eagle habitat, and research to learn the best ways to protect these iconic raptors. Thanks to the passion and dedication of our incredible volunteers and donors, EagleWatch will continue to be a driving force in the conservation of Florida’s population of Bald Eagles, keeping a finger on the pulse of the population to ensure that future Floridians will have the privilege of seeing these magnificent creatures.
This article appeared in the Winter 2022 Naturalist. Read the full magazine here.