If you live in Osceola County, you live near Bald Eagles. These iconic raptors raised chicks in dozens of known nests during the 2022-2023 breeding season. Their success here is a testament to the increase in Florida’s Bald Eagle population—from around 300 nests when the species was first listed as Endangered in 1978 to more than 1,500 nests today—but remains emblematic of the threats these birds face now and into the future.
The population in Osceola County is growing—that’s true whether you’re referring to eagles or humans. As one of the state's fastest growing counties, Osceola is under constant pressure to keep up with the housing needs of the population. At the same time, the undeveloped regions of the county are home to dozens of Bald Eagles. More than 90 Bald Eagle pairs made their nests in Osceola County in 2023, monitored by 19 EagleWatch volunteers. They lose important habitat every year while navigating impacts from climate change, poisonings, and vehicle strikes. As a result, the eagles are nesting closer to each other, with fewer resources to split among them.
“Bald Eagles in Osceola County are now nesting within half a mile of each other,” explains Shawnlei Breeding, EagleWatch Program Manager. “In other areas of the state, they give each other a mile of space.”
AN EAGLE HABITAT CRISIS
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey’s Raptor Trauma Clinic sees the effects of this eagle habitat crisis. Earlier this year, an injured eagle arrived in the clinic after it was found in a lake—its wounds were consistent with a territory fight. Around the same time, the Clinic treated two eagles that had been victims of separate vehicle strikes. As the eagle population in the county is pushed closer together, and closer to human development, these incidences increase.
While development can be disastrous for birds, Osceola County has thousands of acres of protected land that are home to many species of wildlife. According to Center for Birds of Prey rescue volunteer Cheryl Merz, Joe Overstreet Landing and Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area are two locations where eagles flourish, and she and the rescue team frequently choose to release rehabilitated eagles there. Eaglets that are rehabilitated at the Center for Birds of Prey do not learn hunting and survival skills from their parents, so releasing them near other adults gives them a better chance of catching up on these crucial skills.
EAGLEWATCH VOLUNTEERS ARE EYES AND EARS FOR BIRDS OF PREY
EagleWatch volunteers monitor Bald Eagle nests every season to track nest locations and fledgling success as well as to alert law enforcement, utility companies, and other stakeholders when problems arise. This year alone, four injured Bald Eagles from Osceola County have been rescued by EagleWatch volunteers.
INTO THE FUTURE
Using EagleWatch data and observations, Audubon advocates for protective policies for eagles and land acquisition for conservation. The Raptor Trauma Clinic continues to treat, rehabilitate, and release injured Bald Eagles, while the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey links people and birds by providing a place for the local community to learn more about conservation and the raptors that call the Sunshine State home.
VISIT THE AUDUBON CENTER FOR BIRDS OF PREY: cbop.audubon.org
LEARN MORE ABOUT EAGLEWATCH AND EAGLE NESTS IN YOUR AREA: cbop.audubon.org/eaglewatch
SUPPORT FLORIDA RAPTORS: cbop.audubon.org/support-raptors
This article appeared in the Summer 2023 Naturalist. Read the full magazine here.