Dying pine tree could affect bald eagles' nest


A bald eagle has made a nest in a pine tree near the new Diverging Diamond Interchange on Viera Boulevard.

Jill Blue

A bald eagle’s nest near the Viera Boulevard overpass faces an uncertain future.  The towering pine tree housing the nest appears to be dying, and some Viera residents have expressed concern about the fate of the resident eagles and the nest.

Ulgonda Kirkpatrick, an eagle biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said there is no immediate cause for concern for the eagles of nest BE072 (the FWC identifier for the nest). She explained that bald eagles sometimes nest in dead trees until the branches fall off.

“Eagles may continue to inhabit the nest until it falls from the tree,” Kirkpatrick said, “so the nest could remain there for some years to come.”

Eagles often select old, mature trees with large canopies due to the 

far-ranging visibility that such trees offer. Dead trees, or snags, can continue to provide structural support for nests.

“Mega canopy trees tend to be bald eagles’ favorite,” said Kirkpatrick, “because they have really good vantage points of their territory.”

Because these large trees might protrude out more than the surrounding trees, they also can be susceptible to lightning strikes. Currently, the reason for the tree’s demise is unknown.

The biggest concern for the eagles would be if the nest drops out of the tree when hatchlings are in it, according to Kirkpatrick.

In Florida, bald eagle egg laying can occur anytime from October to April. Female bald eagles usually lay two eggs, and both parents incubate the eggs for about 35 days.

“As long as the nest is present, it will forever be protected,” Kirkpatrick said.

Bald eagles are safeguarded under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Eagles continue to face threats each year, including encroaching development. Nearby construction of the new interchange in Viera must be outside a 330-feet buffer from the bald eagle’s nest per Florida Wildlife Commission regulations. Furthermore, construction activity closer than 660 feet to the nest is limited to outside the nesting season.

Kirkpatrick encouraged interested citizens to monitor the nest at a safe distance and report activity. Interested citizens should watch for signs of the eagles laying eggs and hatchlings during the nesting season, if able to do so at a safe distance. With the Florida Department of Transportation construction, that might be difficult.

“It’s always good to give the birds plenty of room,” Kirkpatrick cautioned, “and not put yourself in harm’s way.”

Through the Audubon EagleWatchers citizen science program, members collect data on nesting eagles in Florida, including nest locations and possible disturbances to nesting activities.

Citizens can contact the FWC office of law enforcement if they see anything of concern. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission monitors known eagle nests in Florida by conducting aerial surveys every three years. The next survey in Brevard County will be in 2019.

For information, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife at 888-404-3922 or the Audubon EagleWatchers citizen science at fl.audubon.org/get-involved/audubon-eaglewatch.