Bald Eagles of Mason Neck

Bald Eagle's on Mason Neck

Adult bald eagle and juvenile in a nest - Bill Wallen. 

The needs of bald eagles are threatened by development and human interaction. As bald eagles represent the nation, their extinction would be particularly hard. That is why it was so important for the federal government to establish a refuge for their protection.

Bald eagles have always called the Potomac River home, especially in the Mason Neck area due to the plentiful prey. In the 1960s the population of the species, however, was at an all-time low. This is documented in Conservation Note 20 called "The Bald Eagle" written by the Department of the Interior in 1969. In the document, it notes that conservationist Jackson M. Abbott was finding fewer breeding pairs, that the pairs were not breeding as much as previous years, and that the number of juvenile eagles was decreasing[i]. This is vital because it demonstrates that the population was in danger of serious decline. It also states that since 1967 there was a decrease in the bird's population, especially in the Chesapeake area[ii]

A study called “Status, Distribution, and the Future of Bald Eagles in the Chesapeake Bay Area” by Bryan D. Watts, Glenn D. Therres and Mitchell A. Byrd analyzed the behaviors of bald eagles in the Chesapeake area. Bald eagles have a long wingspan and their diets consist mainly of fish which is why they build large nests on the waterfront[iii]. The large nests require strong, thick trees and for the best aerial view, eagles tend to also choose trees that are tall. They stay near their territory year-round but tend to stay away from nests when humans are near; this human interaction can lead to irregular feeding of chicks or all together abandonment[iv]. A study called “Perch Trees and Shoreline Development as Predictors of Bald Eagle Distribution on Chesapeake Bay” conducted by Sheri K. Chandler, James D. Fraser, David A. Buehler, and Janis K. D. Seegar showed that areas, where eagles tended to prefer to perch, were tall trees, very close to the shoreline, and had a lot of forest cover[v]. The study observed 2,962 eagles during 36 shoreline surveys around the Chesapeake Bay area[vi]. The study also showed that human developed areas tended to have less bald eagles[vii]. A study called “Structure and resilience of bald eagle roost networks” conducted by Watts, Bryan D., and Rodney J. Dyer. studied the habits of 56 nonbreeding pairs of bald eagles in the upper end of the Chesapeake Bay[viii]. Roosting is the location where birds sleep or rest. The study found that “the large collection of roosts within the upper Chesapeake Bay is the most complex assemblage of bald eagle roosts described to date”, meaning that the area has a large connection of roosts[ix]. It also shows that bald eagles often travel roost to roost, and the loss of a roost can cause the whole network to fail. 

[i] U.S. Department of the Interior, The Bald Eagle, 4.

[ii] U.S. Department of the Interior, 5.

[iii]Watts, Bryan D., Glenn D. Therres, and Mitchell A. Byrd, Status, Distribution, and the Future, 32.

[iv]Watts, Bryan D., Glenn D. Therres, and Mitchell A. Byrd, 34.

[v]Chandler, Sheri K., James D. Fraser, David A. Buehler, and Janis K. D. Seegar, Perch Trees, 327.

[vi]Chandler, Sheri K., James D. Fraser, David A. Buehler, and Janis K. D. Seegar, 325.

[vii]Chandler, Sheri K., James D. Fraser, David A. Buehler, and Janis K. D. Seegar, 328

[viii] Watts, Bryan D., and Rodney J. Dyer, Structure and Resilience, 1.

[ix] Watts, Bryan D., and Rodney J. Dyer, 5.