History of the Bald Eagle Nest
in Pembroke Pines, Florida
By Ken Schneider

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This page provides the history of the establishment, by a pair of Bald Eagles, of the first active nest of this species in Broward County, Florida, since their population suffered a dramatic decline in the lower 48 States in the middle of the 20th Century. Only one other Bald Eagle nest had ever been reported in Broward County during the 21st Century. That nest was deep in the Everglades on the Miccosukee Reservation, but it was never found to contain eggs or young birds. More remarkably, this pair selected the City of Pembroke Pines for its homesite. They raised at least one eaglet during the winter and spring of 2007-2008, despite the hazards of nesting very close to densly populated housing developments, a major thoroughfare, a police shooting range and the new West Broward High School. Here, we will report on the eagles, to see whether they can succeed in raising another family at the same site. We will also follow the plans of a group of Middle School science students, who will try to determine whether and how traffic density may affect the birds' behavior.


NEW LINK: PROTECTING THE EAGLE NEST SITE
LINKS TO TOPICS 
Searching for the Nest
First Active Nest This Century
Decline and Recovery
A Hazardous Location
Young People Take an Interest
Schedule of Breeding Activities
"Eagle Forest" is Zoned for Residential Development
Importance of Public Awareness
Rules Protect Eagle Nests From Disturbance
Parakeets May Pose Disease Threat
Concerns About Construction Near Nest
The "Donut Hole" in FWC Bald Eagle Permitting Process
FWC Provides Advice on Broward County School District Project
Excavation will be required in front of nest
School Board Suspends Construction Until Eagle Chicks Leave Nest
RETURN TO EAGLE NEST OBSERVATION PAGE

This screen-shot of the FWC Eagle Locator shows all the FWC- registered Bald Eagle nests within 100 miles of the Pembroke Pines nest.

Click on map to visit the FWC BALD EAGLE LOCATOR; type in your Zip Code and distance you wish to search for nearby nests:

Eagle Nest Locator

(CLICK ON IMAGES IN RED FRAMES FOR ENLARGED VIEWS)
Visit this site on FLICKR and select thumbnails for larger views of all photos
Eagle In Flight

Searching for the Nest


Early in December, 2007, I photographed two Bald Eagles courting and mating on a rooftop of a home across from our home on a small South Florida lake. Around that time, and during  the next 2 weeks, they were seen carrying nesting materials to a wooded area near a busy intersection not far away. Despite searching the area, we were not able to find the nest until a neighbor finally located it on April 20. The observer stated:  “I didn’t want to linger around and draw attention to the nest but I did notice an eagle flying overhead. It was flying high and it appeared mottled like a juvenile. I really hope this property is not slated for development but I suppose it is only a matter of time.”

I then spoke with a  Biologist with the Florida Fish and Game Conservation Commission, and was amazed to learn that the nest had already been discovered in an aerial survey on April 9, 2008, and found to contain one fledgling. The nest was given FWC ID# BO-002, and was located in Pembroke Pines, about a mile east of  US-27 at coordinates N 26.00.44, W 80.25.59 (or N 26.00733, W 80.42650 degrees). Here is a link to a screen shot showing the nest site on the FWS Eagle Locator Map (link to PDF).

Eagles Courting
Head of Flying Eagle

First Active Nest This Century


It seemed  improbable that  a pilot could have somehow found this nest on a random survey, as this location is surrounded by development and is within 100 yards of Pines Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare that intersects with US Highway 27 less than a mile away.

Therefore, I was not surprised when a 7th grade science teacher at a nearby Middle School told me that, a few weeks earlier, she had found and reported the nest location to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and that it was her report that inspired the flyover sighting and its subsequent official entry into the registry of active Bald Eagle nests in Florida. She received a call from the pilot who informed her that he had deviated his planned survey because the information that the teacher had given him seemed very reliable. He also told her that  the nest is the only active one in Broward County. It was the first active nest recorded here this century-- indeed, the first official record of Bald Eagles breeding in Broward County since DDT was banned back in 1972.

Eagles mating
Eaglet in Nest March 15, 2008Eagle Nest April 2008

Decline and Recovery


The photo to the left, taken on March 15, 2008 by Kelly Smith, shows the single eagle chick (whom I like to call "P. Piney One") in the nest. Note that it is almost fully feathered. It will take four to five years for the eaglet to  develop into adult plumage, with a white head and tail.  The second photo shows the empty nest as it appeared on November 22, 2008, before the eagles started to add more sticks.

Before World War II, widespread shooting and poisoning had greatly reduced the number of eagles. Use of the pesticide DDT during the mid-1900s then contributed heavily to the decimation of  the Bald Eagle population across the lower 48 United States. Since eagles are at the top of the food chain, they concentrated the poison in their tissues, and this resulted in thinning of their eggs to the point that they were so fragile that almost all failed to hatch. In recent years, the birds have made a remarkable recovery.  

In 1963, the United States Department of the Interior documented only 417 mating pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous United States. In the past four decades, the bald eagle population has steadily risen, and recent accountings by government biologists have estimated that there are nearly 10,000 mating pairs of bald eagles in the lower United States, with at least one pair in each of the 48 contiguous states. Eventually, the bird’s survival was determined to no longer be jeopardized, and it was removed from the Federal Endangered Species list in 2007. Florida, with 1133 breeding pairs counted in the last national survey in 2006 
, was second only to Minnesota (with 1312) in the number of active Bald Eagle nests in the lower 48 States. The  2007-08 Florida count climbed to 1,280, according to FWC.

Pines Boulevard Traffic

A Hazardous Location


The nest is only about 100 yards from the shoulder of Pines Boulevard, which is usually choked with automobiles at rush hour and when students are entering and exiting nearby West Broward High School.  The Middle School teacher, Kelly Smith, told me that her concern regarding the plan for that vacant lot is what compelled her to try to contact a FWS  official. She said: "It is pure luck that I ended up communicating with Lynda (White), who is the Eagle Watch coordinator. After much contemplation I asked Lynda what she thought about the possibility of involving my 7th grade science students in a study of these eagles and the effect that the traffic due to the new West Broward High School may be having on them. She was very encouraging and I have now presented it to my classes."

Eagles through telescope

Young People Take an Interest


During the time that the eagles were tending their nest, one sometimes visited our lake to catch fish and also attempted to hijack dinner from the local Ospreys. Our granddaughter delighted in watching them on a rooftop across the lake from our home.

As the population of eagles has increased, they seem to be adapting to life in habitats greatly altered by humans. When their  protection under the Endangered Species Act was removed, guidelines still recommended limits on human activity within 660 feet of a Bald Eagle nest site, to minimize disturbances that might cause nesting failure. In recent years, as their natural habitat has decreased, 
Florida's eagles have been known to nest in suburban areas, where as much as half the surrounding land has been developed. Some have even nested on human-made structures, such as cell phone towers. utility poles and even artificial nesting platforms. The Middle School students worked together to design a study that would measure the relationship between traffic levels and particular aspects of the eagles' behavior, particularly their patterns of visiting and remaining on or near the nest.

Eagle pair

Schedule of Breeding Activities


This photo, taken in late November, 2008, shows  the pair of adults standing watch near the nest..
Bald Eagles are believed to mate for life, and commonly use the same nest year after year, often adding nesting materials each season. In South Florida, they usually start working on the nest in late fall or early winter.  According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Florida's eagles usually lay eggs between December and early January. if these eagles follow their expected schedule, they should start carrying nesting material in early December and may lay eggs around the middle of the month. Eggs take about 35 days to hatch, and the one or two eaglets are able to fly at about 11 weeks of age (around mid-April), and remain with their parents near the nest for an dditional 4-11 weeks.  

Eagle Stands Guard

"Eagle Forest" is Zoned for Residential Development


The dense Melaleuca-Australian Pine forest that contains the nest (here called the "Eagle Forest") is located in the northeast corner of a 70 acre square of undeveloped land. This isolated green rectangle occupies about 24 acres, with about 867 feet of frontage along Pines Boulevard to the north. It extends about 1190 feet to the south of the road.

Eagle Forest is divided into two (eastern and western) plats, with the eagle nest site in the western portion of the eastern plat. Both properties are owned by the City of Pembroke Pines, and are zoned for residential use (RS7). To the west and south, the Eagle Forest is surrounded by vacant wetlands filled with dead melaleuca snags, owned by the South Florida Water Management District (WMD).

Dense housing developments begin about 300 feet to the north and 770 feet to the east of the actual nest site. This PDF screenshot  of the Broward County Property Appraiser's Aerial Map shows Eagle Forest tagged as RS7. The WMD property is zoned as B3 (Commercial/Business) and has a County Land use designation 5 (do not yet know its significance).  Click here to view Web page with a navigable Property Appraiser's Aerial map view with the eastern plat highlighted. The full Property Description may be accessed at this Web link.

Eagle on watch

Eagle roosting in Australian Pine

Importance of Public Awareness


Here, one of the pair roosts in an Australian Pine , just to the east of the nest tree, and in full view from Pines Boulevard. 
(The close-up of its head was also taken from the roadside. Click on the images for enlarged views). Local birders and other residents have been made aware of the existence and location of this nest.  I also published information about it in this Blog entry, which includes information about the delisting and Florida's proposed Bald Eagle Management Plan. My view is that public knowledge of, and interest in this milestone in the recovery of our national symbol may help assure that this nest site remains free from disturbance.

Since the nest is on city-owned property, citizens who know about it and appreciate its significance may be more favorably inclined to support its protection.  Of course, the fact that the land is zoned for residential use  will become an increasing concern as municipal budgets are strained and as real estate prices begin to rebound.  

Rules Protect Eagle Nests From Disturbance

It is important that those who visit the nest area follow the guidelines set out by federal and state officials. The federal guidelines take into consideration the existing amount of disturbance when recommending the types of activity that should occur near the nest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines recommend that if there is "similar activity" closer than 1 mile from the nest, and the activity will be visible from the nest, additional such activity should take place "no nearer than 660 feet, or as close as existing tolerated activity of similar scope." My interpretation is that the eagles are already tolerating vehicle and pedestrian traffic along the south shoulder of Pines Boulevard, so observers should not approach any nearer than about the middle of the mowed grass along the edged of the road. As an additional precaution, I recommend that a vehicle be used as a shield as much as possible. Observers might try to stay inside, or on the side of the vehicle opposite the nest. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Bald Eagle Management Plan (PDF Document, Published April, 2008) states: "Some eagles in Florida have shown great tolerance for nesting in suburban or urban areas—in some cases even establishing new territories in these habitats... Some bald eagle pairs in Florida tolerate disturbance much closer than 660 feet from the nest, and the behavior of eagles nesting close to or within developed areas seems to be increasing in Florida. Bald eagle use of urban areas is a relatively new event, and the long-term stability of urban eagle territories has not been documented fully. Although some eagles have demonstrated tolerance for intensive human activity, this does not mean that all eagles will do so (Millsap et al. 2004)... The FWC will not issue citations to or seek prosecution of persons whose activities are conducted consistent with the FWC Eagle Management Guidelines, even if the activity results in a “take” or disturbance of bald eagles.

Eagle head, detail
Monk Parakeet Nest

Parakeets May Pose Disease Threat


Monk Parakeets carry
Chlamydia psittaci, an avian disease known as Parrot Fever, the probable cause of death of at least one juvenile Bald Eagle in West Central Florida that was known to have hatched in a suburban nest with a colony of Monk Parakeets roosting and nesting in an adjacent tree. The Monk Parakeet nest in this photo is at the top of a light standard directly across Pines Boulevard, only about 150 yards from the Pembroke Pines eagles' nest tree. The enlargement shows one of the parakeets at the nest. 

Monk ParakeetBrian Millsap and colleagues from the 
Bureau of Wildlife Diversity Conservation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, studied and compared the survival of Bald Eagles from both rural and suburban areas of west central Florida (link to full report in PDF).Following a matched groups of 50 birds from each area, they discovered that eaglets raised in both rural and suburban locations did well until they left the care of their parents and migrated away from their home ranges, usually to points further north. After that, fewer of the suburban birds survived than their rural counterparts. Since the suburban eagles were more often killed by vehicle collisions and electrocution, they may not been less cautious around man-made dangers. Overall, survival rates of both rural and urban birds was greater than expected, and their population is expected to continue to grow.  

Monk Parakeet at nest
Utility marker flagsOrange flagsPair at nestEagle Departing
Eagle viewing site

Concerns About Construction Near Nest

The needs of the Pembroke Pines Bald Eagles and those of humans have come into conflict. Since the new West Broward High School was opened last fall, automotive and school bus traffic has overwhelmed the "T" intersection at 209th Avenue and Pines Boulevard, just a half block west of the eagle nest site. Two or more police officers are required during morning and afternoon rush hours, just to direct the traffic safely. Without question, there is a pressing need for a traffic signal, in the interest of public safety.

On Friday afternoon, January 16, 2009, just before the weekend that the Pembroke Pines eagles' first egg hatched, orange utilty marker flags appeared all along the south side of the 20800 block of Pines Boulevard, right in front of the nest tree. It took some time for the City to even determine which agency was doing the construction. We now know that the Broward County School Board has plans to install traffic lights at the corner of SW 209th Avenue.  Since this will require trenching and laying of lines only 200 feet from the nest with one or more newly-hatched eaglets, we sought to have the activity delayed until early May, when the young birds should be fledged and flying free.

An Eagle Permit from FWC may be obtained for any activity within 660 feet of an active eagle nest, but only under two conditions:

(1) if the activity takes place during the nesting season (1 October - 15 May) and is 330 or more feet away from the nest, or

(2) if a permanent ongoing activity is to take place during the non-nesting season.

The permit is voluntary; those who conduct the activity are free to simply follow the State guidelines concerning disturbance and not apply for a permit at all. During the nesting season, no activity at all is permitted within 330 feet of the nest, and temporary activites during the non-nesting season may take place at any distance from the nest without a permit. To better understand the permitting process, please refer here to Figure 4, the FWC Eagle Management Plan Process Map (PDF).

Under the State FWC guidelines (which follow the  USFWS Guidelines, above), any activity that is closer than existing tolerated activity "of a similar scope" should be delayed until after the nesting season. In our opinion, heavy equipment creates a greater disturbance than vehicular traffic, and its use nearer than the edge of Pines Boulevard should not be permitted at this critical point in the eagles' breeding cycle.

The bottom line is that the County School Board does not need a permit to do the work, because FWC cannot issue a permit, as the excavation takes place inside the 330' nest buffer.  They can only recommend that trenching wait until after the chicks fledge.  The  School Board may request a permit for that part of the construction that occurs at the actual site of the traffic signal pole, which is over 330 feet away from the nest.  The School Board may decide to go ahead with the work, and risk a being charged with a violation, but only if nest failure or abandonment results from the added disturbance. The FWC might be able to recommend ways for the School Board to minimize disturbance if they do proceed with the work during nesting season.  Importantly,  FWC does not have power to force any mitigation of the disturbance (for example, by limiting the amount of hours that machinery runs in front of the nest each day, or using quieter methods nearer the nest, or not working nearest the nest during cold or inclement weather). However, they have the force of persuasion and public opinion on their side. Sadly,
in order to take any action at all, they must prove that the actions of the School Board or its contractors caused abandonment of the nest or death of the eaglets.  


The "Donut Hole" in FWC Bald Eagle Permitting Process
(
Some reflections)

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC is) limited by law and guidelines as to the amount of authority it may exert in this case. In effect, their only available remedy is to advise Broward School Board that they are prohibited from undertaking any construction activity within 330 feet of the nest while eaglets are present. Indeed, FWC personnel are now in contact with the Board and its contractor and are  providing advice and assistance. Ironically, if the activity were to be carried out 330 to 660 feet from the nest, the School Board would have had the option to apply for a voluntary permit, which would give FWC added leverage to formally monitor and suggest modifications to the activity so to minimize disturbance and the possibility of a “take” that would have serious consequences.

The FWC Bald Eagle protection efforts are limited by the absolute prohibition against any disturbance within the 330 foot perimeter, until the eaglets have fledged. This regulatory "donut hole" occurs, as in the case of our local nest, even though there are already myriad disturbances within the 330 foot nest perimeter. This gap is illustrated in the Eagle Management Plan permitting process flowchart.

The FWC Bald Eagle Management Plan incorporates the National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines (USFWS 2007b), which, to reduce the potential for human activities to adversely affect nesting bald eagles, recommend “the establishment of a single buffer zone 660 feet or less from the nest, depending on the presence or absence of existing activities (of “similar scope”) and the visibility of the activity from the nest.” 

According to the FWC management plan, “an existing activity near a bald eagle nest is of similar scope to a proposed activity, when the project is similar in nature, size, and use.” If eagles are already tolerating activities that are similar in scope to the proposed construction, there is, theoretically, less potential for the new activity to cause abandonment of the nest. This could be a very useful concept, but unfortunately, it may not be applied if the activity is nearer than 330 feet. Any activity that is closer to the nest than existing tolerated activity "of a similar scope" should be delayed until after the nesting season.

In cities and suburbs, such disturbances should be expected with great frequency, and with varying degrees of urgency. Utility lines are repaired and replaced, roads are resurfaced, signs and traffic controls are installed and serviced, and vegetation and shrubs are regularly trimmed with mechanized equipment. Imperfect as our knowledge of the behavior of newly urbanized eagles may be, it would appear prudent for FWC to be empowered to take a more formal role in guiding and monitoring construction within the urban “donut hole,” just as it does in the 330-660 foot zone.

As eagles seek and increasingly find more urban nesting locations, FWC needs more leverage to either negotiate and issue modified permits, or better enforce the existing protection of the nest from disturbances that it judges to be nearer and/or greater in scope than existing disturbances.

If a negotiated FWC permit were required under such special circumstances, FWC personnel would have greater authority to require measures to protect the eagles (and provide a measure of liability protection for contractors) by inserting conditions that are specific to the situation in the field.

For example, such a special permit could take into consideration the applicant's use of alternative technologies and procedures that serve the same purpose, but cause less disturbance than traditional methods. Such conditions, now negotiated informally, would thus be formalized in the special permit, FWC would have more authority to enforce the agreed-upon measures.

Such an approach would be educational rather than punitive, but backed by the negotiated special permit. The only trigger for enforcement should not be the death of a chick, or abandonment of the nest, which is a worst-case scenario.

These guidelines are remarkably impotent as a means of regulating the protection of Bald Eagles. Note that Eagle  permit is never "required," it is always voluntary. And anyone may proceed based upon their own interpretation of the rules, and not face a penalty unless they "take" an eagle and are caught and prosecuted. ("Take" includes: pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb).

Responsible Agency is Broward County School District; FWC Provides Advice
(This page may be updated frequently; please refresh your browser for latest content)

We have learned from Scott Brunner, P.E., the Broward County Signal Operations Engineer, that the signal at Pines Boulevard at 209th Avenue is not being installed by Broward County Traffic Engineering, but by the Broward County School District and their consultants/contractors through a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) permit.


Based on the advice he received from FWC, Mr. Brunner notified the FDOT as well as the contractor, strongly encouraging "all project managers associated with this project to coordinate with the FWC to minimize any impact to this protected species." Mr. Brunner also said:"The poles will be installed using large augers rather than pounding any type of poles into the ground... the signal construction should be in the 450’-800’ range of the nest."

Mr. Brunner also forwarded, to FDOT and the contractor, advice provided last week to the County Traffic Engineering Division by Sharyn Hood of FWC, who provided links to information on regulations and guidelines, stating: "Apparently this is the first eagle nest in Broward County since the 1970s, so the nearby residents are very excited about the nest and understandably protective."

On the assumption that the work would involve trenching along the roadside in front of the eagle nest, Ms. Hood stated (January 22, 2009):

"As I understand now, work nearest to the eagle nest would involve trenching along the roadside; while I am not familiar with the type of machinery needed to accomplish this work, I can assume it would be larger and noisier than the disturbance currently caused by normal traffic in the area.  Based on this, FWC would not recommend moving forward with work until after the chick(s) have fledged from the nest. Doing so would put Traffic Engineering (or contractors – whomever is responsible for the project) at risk for a potential violation of FWC’s eagle rule, which prohibits take (harass, harm, disturb, cause nest abandonment or failure).

"Our agency does offer disturbance permits for work that will take place during the nesting season and between 330’ and 660’ of an active nest if our guidelines cannot be followed. We do not, however, issue permits for work done within the 330’ buffer of an active nest during the nesting season, and so would not issue a permit for this particular project. The county can choose to proceed with the work, but takes a risk of causing take and being cited for a violation (if the nest fails due to excessive disturbance, the birds abandon, etc.).  Outside the nesting season (Oct 1 – May 15, or whenever eagles are present at the nest site), temporary activities (which this would likely be considered) can proceed without an FWC permit.  Local nest-watchers have indicated that at least one chick hatched on or near the weekend of Jan 17-18, and assuming around 11 weeks until the chick(s) are able to fly means that they should be flying around the end of April.

"One option is to postpone work in this area until the chick(s) are capable of sustained flight, after which work could proceed inside that 330’ buffer without much concern.  The other is to move forward with the work and take a chance with disturbance and/or nest failure or abandonment.  If you have a need to move forward at this time, I would strongly recommend postponing work for at least a few days until the weather has warmed up – this way if the adults are disturbed from the nest for a period of time the risk of exposure for the chicks will be lessened.  Another recommendation might be to use smaller machinery or even do some of the digging manually (if feasible) in areas closest to the nest to reduce disturbance.
 
"I hope the information is helpful to you in making decisions about this project.  Please let me know what other assistance I can provide, and thank you again for your time and concern.  I would appreciate an update as you proceed with your discussions, and will be happy to try and answer any questions you might have."

UPDATE: Mr. Brunner has provided additional information about the routing of the line to the traffic signal.Eagle nest watchers were concerned because we assumed that excavation would occur in front of the nest. The scenario may not involve any excavation within 450 feet of the nest. Mr. Brunner promised to keep us advised as he learns more about the specific plans. This is very reassuring news! He provides an instructive map and writes (January 26, 2009):

"The current plan calls for a new electric power service point originating from an FPL pole west/northwest of the eagle nest (southeast from the intersection).  It is possible that the work we saw being performed near the FPL pole previously was related to providing future service points for 120 volt service, such as for this traffic signal -- however I do not have confirmation of this at this time.  The actual service connection for the traffic signal would require very minor excavation (hand dig) for a pull box at the base of the FPL pole, and a vertical rigid conduit connection up the pole -- no major excavation.  Underground conduit will have to be directional bored from the intersection to the pullbox at the base of the FPL pole, but the directional bore machine can be set up at the intersection 450+ away. It is somewhat noisy, but probably not noticeable relative to ambient traffic on Pines Blvd if it is set-up close to the roadway.

"Another option would be to establish a new service point connection at the FPL pole west/southwest of the intersection, further away west of the nest. If the service point has not already been established by FPL at the FPL pole southeast of the intersection (described above), then going to the southwest pole would be advisable.  If there is already an FPL service point at the southeast FPL pole, then it actually may be less intrusive to proceed with using that pole.  I will pass this info on to the School District's signal design engineer. "

We believe that criteria for the need of a FWC Eagle Permit permit now appear to be met, because the major construction will actually take place just outside the 330 foot limit. We wonder whether the School Board will apply for a permit, or elect to proceed without one. So far, FWC has informed us that the agency has been in contact with the School Board and also with the contractor that will be installing the signal.  No decisions have been made about a permit (it is not yet clear whether FWC will recommend a permit) or the details of the construction schedule.  FWC personnel will be meeting with them soon to discuss the details of the project and anticipated construction activities, and will keep us informed as to the outcome of these discussions, and any decisions that may be made.

Excavation will be required in front of nest

February 4, 2009: We have learned that the installation of the signal at 209th Street and Pines Boulevard by Broward School Board will require a communication line to be run from 209th to 208th on the south side of Pines, passing about 190 feet in front of the Bald Eagle nest tree. This will require excavation of a trench that will be only about 18 inches deep. Such trenching does not require a backhoe, so it may be possible for the contractor to complete the trench relatively rapidly and with lighter machinery and less disturbance. However, for some reason, the concrete box that is only about 215 feet from the nest must be relocated several yards to the east. Digging up the box and excavating at its new location may require heavier equipment.

We urge that such work not be conducted during cold or rainy weather, and that consideration be given to staging the work so that there are not prolonged periods of disturbance on any one day. Alternatively, the School Board might reconsider the need to relocate the box.  This would minimize the duration of any temporary avoidance of the nest site by the adults and possibly reduce the risk of abandonment. The contractor will be meeting with FWC officials tomorrow in an effort to reach some agreement on timing of the installation, or, if the traffic signal must be installed before the eaglets fledge, to decide upon construction approaches that create the least disturbance.

As I looked at the nest area today, it appears clear that some of the Australian Pines that are near the FPL transmission lines will need to be topped or trimmed before hurricane season. There should be ample time to take care of this after the breeding season. I will investigate this issue, to assure that FPL or any other public utility that may use the poles are aware of the existence of the nest and the need to protect the birds while chicks are in the nest.

UPDATE: February 9, 2009:  FWS has not yet provided a status report on the results of their meeting with the Broward County School Board officials responsible for scheduling the construction. As mentioned, they have provided good advice to the contractor.  We will let you kn
ow as soon as we learn whether the School Board decides whether to delay the project  until the eaglets leave the nest tree.  

Lynda White, Eagle Watch Coordinator at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida provided us with some reassurance about the risk of nest abandonment, stating that  there would be greatest concern about disturbances in late March and early April, when the eagles may be out on the branches of the tree but not yet fully capable of free flight.  

She says, "Once the adults have eaglets they are more invested in the nest and much less likely to abandon. The most vulnerable time for them is early in the season, before or just after eggs are laid. Even if they are startled off the nest, they won't go far and will return within a short time to care for the eaglets. I would be more concerned if the eaglets were at the fledging stage, for they might jump, but these youngsters are too small to be concerned with any disturbance. Also please remember that eagles are far more likely to be disturbed by humans on foot than vehicles. Too many people in their line of sight will cause more stress than construction activity a few hundred feet away. The number of onlookers needs to be kept to a minimum, including children running around." 


We have noted that the eagles often stare quite intently at us as we observe them on the nest or roosting nearby. Yesterday, even the chick appeared to scrutinize the photographers and other onlookers. These birds have, at least twice, successfully hatched out their eggs despite traffic noise (including the sirens of emergency vehicles, which they seemed to ignore). The students of the  seventh grade science class are documenting the birds' behavior during times of varying traffic density, and hope to add to our knowledge of how these normally shy birds adapt to city life.

Broward County School Board Suspends Construction Until Eagle Chicks Leave Nest

BULLETIN: February 10, 2009-- Sharyn Hood, Assistant Regional Biologist in the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission South Regional Office in West Palm Beach, has provided good news about protection of the eagle nest.  Sharyn also provides a caution to eagle watchers. She writes:

"I think things have finally been worked out with all parties.  Because construction can’t be completed without working within the 330’ buffer zone, FWC has recommended that the project, or at least the work within 330’,  be postponed until the eagle chicks have fledged.  The Environmental Department representative from the school board fully supports this recommendation, so it looks like things will be delayed until sometime in April.  FWC can allow work to proceed between 330’ and 660’ without recommending a permit if the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nest Monitoring Guidelines are followed, but it’s my understanding right now that the school board is not in a position to be able to provide that monitoring; that’s why they are also suggesting delay of the construction.  Everyone I’ve spoken with is fully committed to doing what’s best for the birds, and that’s great.  We are aware that they did start with some work yesterday (outside of 330’) at the intersection of Pines and 209th, but as I understand it after those holes are filled with concrete the rest of the work will be delayed unless they can provide for nest monitoring.

"One more note – it’s a very bad idea to have any type of activity occurring within that 330’ buffer zone around the nest, so I hope that all of the eagle watchers out there are limiting activity to outside this area.  Pedestrian traffic within this area can be especially disturbing to birds, so while I encourage folks to enjoy watching the birds I remind them that we are all responsible for ensuring their success (construction workers and birdwatchers alike…the birds don’t distinguish!).  So, I hope that everyone is keeping their distance and paying close attention to the birds’ behavior to make sure they aren’t causing the disturbance from which they are trying to protect the eagles."

As I have pointed out in my discussion of the "donut hole" in FWC regulation of activities near an active nest, the agency lacks authority to take punitive action unless disturbance from such activity is shown to result in nest abandonment, or injury or death to an eagle. Enforcement is voluntary, but the penalty for causing the "take" of an eagle can be very severe. Therefore, eagle watchers are urged to avoid creating any disturbance within the 330 foot perimeter.

Within the next month, the eaglets will reach a critical time when they are more apt to be injured or killed, as they begin to climb out of the nest and test their wings. If frightened, they may fall from the tree. Lacking full powers of flight, they may fall to the ground and, even if they survive the fall, risk being  killed by a predator, or abandoned by their parents. The normal vantage point for viewing or photographing the nest is only 205 feet from the nest. While it is true that pedestrians commonly pass back and forth on the grassy swale at even less distance, and the birds have accomodated the presence of humans at this distance, please consider your responsibilty to observe the 330 foot limitation.

Winning Science Fair Exhibit Features Pembroke Pines Eagles

Science Fair AwardJesus Hoyos, a 7th Grade Science student from Silver Trail MiddleScience Fair Exhibit School, has won first place in his category (beating out over 50 other entries) in the Broward County Science Fair, and will move up to the state competition in April. His project was a study of the "effect of traffic on proximity to the nest in a pair of Bald Eagles located in Pembroke Pines, Florida"

The Broward County Audubon Society also awarded a prize. Jesus will be honored on March 24 at the Broward County Science Fair Awards Ceremony, at New River Middle School in Fort Lauderdale.

His  blue ribbon and exhibit are pictured here. Click on the images for enlarged views. We wish Jesus Hoyos the best of luck in the Florida State finals!

Should Eagle Nest Locations Be Disclosed?

Our local Bald Eagle nest has attracted much attention. On weekends, there may be a dozen or more people watching the nest. Many are serious birders and nature photographers. Others may have seen accounts in the media, but an increasing number are casual passers-by who simply are wondering why so many people are looking up into the trees. They stare in amazement through spotting scopes and borrowed binoculars at the breathtaking views of our living, breathing National Symbol. They return with family members and neighbors. From other nest-watchers they learn of the unique status of this pair of Bald Eagles, whose nest is the first active one to be recorded in Broward County in nearly a half century.  

The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI), administered by Florida State University, builds and maintains a comprehensive database of the biological resources of Florida, using a ranking system developed by The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Heritage Program Network. The FNAI measures and evaluates the threats posed to each vulnerable species, based on its status in Florida. The FNAI classifies the Bald Eagle as "demonstrably secure" statewide, but vulnerable to extinction in some restricted local areas of Florida.

The Florida FWC publishes the location of all active Bald Eagle nests in the state. As a rule, specific information about the location of the nests of rare or threatened bird species should not be shared with unauthorized individuals. Raptor nests are especially sensitive for several reasons. Raptors have historically been persecuted in the belief that they killed domestic livestock and poultry. Some early bird books classified various species as "good" or "bad," and some hawks were often regarded as belonging in the latter category because they killed chickens and the "good" birds that ate insect pests.

In Alaska and parts of the northwest United States, Bald Eagles were shot because fishermen accused them of causing a decrease in salmon. As late as 1953, the Territory of Alaska paid a bounty of fifty cents to two dollars for each pair of eagle feet, and bounty hunting became an important part of the economy. Over 128,000 eagles were killed between 1917 and 1953, when the territorial legislature removed the bounty after it found no evidence that the eagles contributed to the decline of salmon. (Read more at  http://www.sheldonmuseum.org/chilkatbaldeaglepreserve.htm)

Most raptors are large, and make attractive targets for shooters. Before passage of Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and other protective legislation, it was not uncommon for hawks to be gunned down by the hundreds for "sport" along ridges during migration.    (See
A Guide to the Laws and Treaties of the United States for Protecting Migratory Birds ). This practice continues in parts of Latin America.

Despite these laws and severe penalties, poachers still shoot hawks and eagles. Although now most falconers use captive-bred birds, some still may illegaly take the young of raptors. Publicizing the location of raptor nests may encourage such illicit activities.

In the case of the Pembroke Pines eagles, was it bad for the media to publicly disclose the nest site? Of course, the answer is unknown, as the birds have not finished their nesting cycle. In fact, they are now entering a critical period as the two eaglets gain strength and, within a couple of weeks, will begin walking out on the branches of the nest tree. By late March their parents will start bringing them less food, and even make them scramble or make short flights to be fed. They will lose body weight, making it easier for them to become airborne. Yet, if startled by an unusual disturbance before they are ready to fly freely, they may fall to the ground and face almost certain injury or death. In fact, up to half of newly fledged eagles are said to perish within days of leaving the nest.

A multitude of onlookers does create a disturbance. Research has shown that other bird species show stress if humans stare directly at them, rather than giving sideways glances, or if humans walk towards them instead of approaching tangentially or indirectly. While these experiments were done with prey species, and not predators like the eagle, there is no reason to assume that eagles react any differently. In fact, the visual acuity of eagles is about four times greater than that of humans. We have seen both adults and chicks stare back intently as we look at them through binoculars or photograph them. Perhaps they are not expressing fear, but they are clearly aware of our presence. Children may create a disturbance by running and playing nearer to the nest while others are watching.  Vehicles and observers who stay inside vehicles, dress in somber colors, or move about less seem to attract less attention.

The fact that the eagles nested successfully last year at the present site, only 205 feet from the edge of busy Pines Boulevard, indicates that the birds have developed a degree of tolerance for human activities. Only last week, we observed an eagle roosting quiety in the melaleuca snags to the west of the nest, while excavation with heavy machinery was being carried out only about 100 feet away. Many times, we noted that the sirens of emergency vehicles appeared not to change their behavior. The study by the Middle School students attempts to quantify the relationship between traffic density and proximity of the eagles to the nest.

Potentially, public awareness of the active Bald Eagle nest may have some positive effects. These magnificent birds, seen at such close range, open a window to the natural world for all who stop to look. Many were unaware of threats to the eagles, such as pesticides and habitat loss, and of the laws that protect them. Greater public knowledge and appreciation of the birds may lead citizens to support actions by the local government to increase their protection.

Florida Department of Transportation should take measures to improve safety of observers at nest site

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis has appointed a Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee to assist the City in developing a sanctuary on City land that surrounds a recently-discovered Bald Eagle nest. This nest is the first active eagle nest known to have been established in Broward County since DDT was abolished in the 1970s. The existence of this nest was publicized by local media, and has attracted much attention from the general public. Since the nest is located only about 150 feet from the edge of Pines Boulevard (State Highway 820), it may be readily viewed from the grassy swale that borders the south shoulder of the 20800 block of the highway.

Earlier this year, local officials as well as FDOT became aware of certain hazards posed by the large number of observers who congregated along the side of the roadway, especially during the months of January through May, when young eagles were present in the nest. At various times, especially on weekends, over 50 vehicles and more than 100 spectators gathered there at one time. Since most observers spent only a limited time at the site, there was much turnover. Traffic and crowd control measures were implemented. FDOT placed “No Parking” signs along that stretch of roadway, in an attempt to eliminate the collision hazard posed by vehicles stopping to park and re-enter the highway. The City erected a fence around the property with “No Trespassing” signs, and placed pylons along the entire block about 30 feet from the roadway, to further discourage vehicular traffic and keep pedestrians from approaching too close to the nest.  

In an effort to educate the public and also to help maintain order during times of peak visitor traffic, a cadre of local citizens assembled as an ad hoc eagle watching group. Several of these lay citizens now serve on the Mayor’s Steering Committee. At the July 20 meeting, they related some experiences that raise very serious public safety and liability concerns.

Unauthorized parking continued even after the FDOT erected signs. This was often innocent, as the signs faced the roadway rather than oncoming traffic. Many drivers failed to see the signs until they were pointed out by the volunteers or other observers. There were several “near misses” due to vehicles slowing down (whether to park or inquire about the reason for the presence of the crowds), but no collisions were observed.  Speeders and other drivers distracted by the presence of the observers, or possibly by cell phones, sometimes veered out of lanes and caused near-collisions.  The lack of parking spaces near the nest led some motorists to park in traffic lanes, such as the westbound right and left turn lanes at 209th Avenue. 

Most seriously, pedestrians stood too close to the paved roadway. Looking at the nest through binoculars and cameras, they sometimes backed up onto the pavement. Small children were seen to actually venture into the traffic lane while their parents were inattentive or distracted. Thankfully, there have been no reports of pedestrian accidents, but this situation creates an urgent and abiding concern to members of the Steering Committee. We believe that the modest cost of providing safety measures pales in comparison to the liability that may be associated with a single serious injury or fatality.    

Since the eagles instinctively return to the same territory each winter to begin the breeding cycle, and normally re-use the same nest, this scenario, with its associated hazards, is be expected to be repeated in future years.  We believe that Florida Department of Transportation has an interest in, and responsibility to assure the safety of, pedestrians who view the eagle nest from FDOT property along the south side of the 20800 block of Pines Boulevard. We request that FDOT implement additional measures to reduce public liability for any injuries or deaths that may result from failure to act before the return of crowds of eagle observers in January, 2010.

We therefore suggest that FDOT traffic engineers evaluate and consider, in priority order:

1.    Place a temporary hard barrier along the south (eastbound) side of the highway, to create a soft breakdown lane on the right shoulder, and also to separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic. Since there are several nest vantage points along the roadway, the barrier should be at least 100 to 150 feet long. FDOT engineers could determine construction, whether plastic water-filled, or concrete “Jersey Barriers.” Observers would be limited to the south side of the barrier, away from vehicular traffic.
2.    Improve “No Parking” signage so that the signs face oncoming traffic.
3.    Add temporary warning traffic signs recommending that motorists exercise caution and reduce speed along that stretch of roadway during the months of January through May.
4.    Develop, in cooperation with the City of Pembroke Pines, durable temporary signs that instruct pedestrian observers to utilize crosswalks at signal lights (at corners of 209th  and 208th Avenues) and provide additional information to increase observer safety, such as staying off the shoulder or roadway, controlling children and pets, not littering, (etc).
5.    Consider construction of a pedestrian sidewalk on the south side of the block, in view of the increased pedestrian traffic at all times of the year (due not only to the eagle nest, but also the new High School and the recently-installed traffic signals at 209th Avenue that provide additional protected access to the bus stop at the SE corner of  208th Avenue).
6.    While parking concerns are mainly within the purview of local authorities, FDOT may be offer some advice and assistance to the City.

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis Appoints Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee

STATEMENT OF GOALS (Adopted July 20, 2009)

The City of Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee will recommend
measures to:
  • Protect and preserve Bald Eagle nesting sites in the City of Pembroke Pines.
  • Promote public knowledge and appreciation of local Bald Eagles
  • Provide opportunities for the public to safely observe the Bald Eagle nest
OBJECTIVES
The Bald Eagle Steering Committee will:
  • Work with City administration to develop appropriate legal instruments establishing a Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle Sanctuary
  • Assist City of Pembroke Pines in enacting an ordinance to protect Bald Eagle nesting sites within the City
  • Identify, prioritize and recommend actions to control public access and provide safe parking for observers
  • Explore alternatives and develop specifications for a viewing area during nesting season
  • Develop plans and seek funding from other governmental and private sources forsanctuary-related construction, public education and research
Minutes and documents from the Steering Committee meetings and activities may be viewed on the Eagle Nest Watching page.

The Steering Committee presented a  Position Paper to Florida Department of Transportation concerning safety of observers at nest site.

The FDOT Response to the Steering Committee's safety concerns, while not entirely unexpected, was disappointing. While the agency took measures to assure that cars do not park illegally off the roadway in front of the nest, they also prohibited parking along the entire length of the highway on that side.

Further, FDOT could not honor the Steering Committee's request that FDOT place soft barriers, such as orange barrels with plastic mesh fencing, along the shoulder to help separate viewers from vehicular traffic. They cited concerns of traffic engineers about limited sight distance and collision avoidance space, although this is a very straight stretch of roadway. Effectively, pedestrians are barred from standing on that side of the street.

This leaves only the sidewalk across the street available for observers. As  the eaglets become more visible and active during the months of February through May, we expect to again experience large numbers of viewers, especially on weekends. Seeing no place to park, (
although there is a Post Office parking lot only about 1000 feet away) they will create an enforcement problem for local police by stopping in traffic lanes and parking in the turn lanes. FDOT did provide a glimmer of hope that a new sidewalk in front of the nest, which is planned for completion in 2011, might provide a viewing platform.  

     
Pembroke Pines City Commission Initiates Action to Formally Protect the Eagle Nest

The conservation policies to protect the eagles and pave the way for an Eagle Protection Ordinance  were passed by the Pembroke Pines City Commission on first reading and were reviewed favorably by the Florida Department of Community Affairs.  The second reading and adoption is scheduled for 9/21/10. 

From the City of Pembroke Pines Web site:

SUMMARY EXPLANATION AND BACKGROUND (Supporting documents for Agenda of August 18, 2010 City Commission meeting):

1.  At the 4/21/2010 City Commission meeting, The Commission requested staff to prepare an information packet in their motion to pass Proposed Ordinance No. 2010-10 on first reading (2010-10 is now bifurcated into 2010-16ARA and 2010-17ARB Comprehensive Plan  text amendments on this evening's agenda).
 
2.  In the spring of 2008, a bald eagle nest was discovered on the City's Chambers plat property on the south side of Pines Boulevard, west of 208th Avenue.  
 
3.  In response to concerns of residents to protect the eagles as well as the residents who wanted to view the eagles and eaglets, the Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee was formed.  The Steering Committee recommended the creation of an eagle protection ordinance based on many of the guidelines of the FWC management plan (see Exhibit 2).
 
4.  The proposed policies in the Conservation Element (Proposed Ordinance No. 2010-17ARB) are recommended by the Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee and provide the foundation for the creation of an eagle protection ordinance (see exhibit 3).  An update to Objective IV and the addition of Policies 4.24 though 4.27(highlighted in Exhibit 3) address this issue.
 
5.  Attached for your information is an executive summary prepared by the Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Bald Eagle management plan.  
 
6.  Staff will present to Commission drafts of the proposed ordinance in the near future.


= = = = =

The entire document may be viewed at this link on the main Eagle Watch web page. Here are pertinent excerpts from the Comprehensive Plan:

Proposed Policies 1.4 and 4.27 have been added pursuant to House Bill 697 and are consistent with the Broward County Conservation Element's adopted policies. In addition,  the City is proposing to modify Objective IV and add policies 4.24 through 4.26 providing for the preservation and protection of the city's Bald Eagle active Bald Eagle nest. Tables CE-1 and 2 have also been updated.

In 2007, the City's first active Bald Eagle nest was identified and Proposed Policies 4.24 through 4.26 have been added to protect and preserve the nest as well as a provide the foundation for the adoption of an eagle sanctuary protection ordinance.

OBJECTIVE IV
Conserve, protect, maintain or improve native vegetative communities, wildlife habitats, wetlands, Bald Eagle nesting sites, and marine habitats through 2015 in accordance with Broward County and City of Pembroke Pines standards.

Policy 4.24 - The City shall protect and preserve Bald Eagle nesting sites and promote educational programs for the residents by establishing a Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle Sanctuary Protection ordinance to be adopted no later than September 2011.

Policy 4.25 - Identify, prioritize, and recommend alternative actions to control public access and coordinate with federal, state, regional, county and local agencies to explore safe parking options and viewing areas during nesting season.

Policy 4.26 - Continue to coordinate with the Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee in the development of plans and in the identification of funding sources for sanctuary activities including the installation of a web cam, public education
programs, signage, and research.




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