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Bald Eagles: Their Comeback and Challenges

“Virginia’s tidal rivers are just loaded with bald eagles,” Jeff Cooper told 210 people attending the March 2 FODM meeting and the Chesapeake Bay is the epicenter of eagle conservation. The area from Dyke Marsh south to where route 301 crosses the Rappahannock River is a bald eagle concentration area.


Bald Eagle Pair Jim Stone
Bald eagles mating.  Photo by Jim Stone

The Chesapeake Bay has the densest breeding population in the lower 48 states and many pass through the Bay every year, a critical stop on the Atlantic flyway.

Bald eagle nest in Dyke Marsh.  Photo by Ed Eder  

In recent years, Dyke Marsh has had three active bald eagle nests. In and around Dyke Marsh and Mason Neck, there are nests every half mile or so because food is easily available, largely fish, Cooper said. Bald eagles feed mainly on fish which they catch with their sharp yellow talons.  

While bald eagles were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007, challenges remain. A February 2022 study by Vince Slabe and others with Conservation Science Global found that nearly half of bald and golden eagles tested between 2010 and 2018 in the U. S. show signs of chronic lead exposure, likely ingested from spent lead ammunition in carcasses and gut piles left by hunters. Collisions with civilian and military aircraft pose another threat. Cooper called Virginia and Florida “hotspots” for eagle-aircraft strikes. Most airports are located in prime eagle habitats because they are near water.  

Cooper has also conducted surveys of golden eagles in Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains in connection with siting wind energy facilities.


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Jeff Cooper retrieves a bald eagle from a net.
Photo by Glenda Booth

  Jeff Cooper holding a bald eagle.
Photo by Glenda Booth

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Cooper measures eagles' beaks.  Here, Sandy Spencer holds the eagle, caught at Virginia's Rappahannock River National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Glenda Booth   Cooper puts metal bands on eagles' ankles.
Photo by Glenda Booth 
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Cooper releasing the bald eagle.
Photo by Glenda Booth

Cosponsors of the meeting were the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, the Northern Virginia Bird Club, the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park and the Friends of Mason Neck State Park.

To see a video recording of the Zoom presentation by Jeff Cooper click here.


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