Area eagle population something to crow about

SHEPHERDSTOWN — In 2000, nine active eagle nests were documented in West Virginia. This year there are 40, says Kieran O’Malley, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources wildlife diversity biologist.

“We see eagles fighting, which means they are infringing on each others territory,” said O’Malley, whose job it is to monitor the area eagle population. “We begin monitoring in January and continue through June. By June we can see how many chicks they have fledged.”

Eagle nests along the South Branch River near Trough area

The first two eagle nests in the region were found in Hampshire County in 1981 when a maintenance crew from the South Branch Valley Railroad came across them in the Trough area.

And now, he said, “There are six active nests in Hampshire County.”

Each eagles nest has a pair of adult eagles.

Adult eagles measure from 30 to 40 inches from head to tail, with a 7- to 8-foot wingspan, and weigh from eight to 14 pounds. The female is larger than the male, according to data provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown.

Fledglings stay in the nest about 11 to 12 weeks when adults start encouraging them to fly.

Bald eagles are believed to live 30 years or longer in the wild. They mate for life, building huge nests in the tops of large trees near rivers, lakes, and other wetlands.

The adults will often return to the same nest year after year making additions to the nest each year. Some nests can reach up to 10 feet across and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Young eagles are believed to return to within 100 miles or so of their own nest site when they reach maturity and are ready to mate.

O’Malley said the population expansion of the eagles began in the Eastern Panhandle counties and has spread statewide along the South Branch as far as Blue Grass, Va., but not as far as the Ohio River.

O’Malley said this will likely be the last year that the nests are annually monitored.

“It takes a lot of driving to check all of them,” said O’Malley, whose coverage area includes Hampshire, Jefferson, Hardy, Berkeley, Morgan, Mineral, Grant, and Pendleton counties. “It’s difficult to keep track of all of them. We will probably begin monitoring every five years.”

To view the activities of the eagle nest on the grounds at NCTC in Jefferson County, go to Nctc_eaglecam@fws.gov.

Eagles are protected under state and federal law.

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