Behind the Binoculars
Notes from the EagleWatch Program Manager
“These are unprecedented times” has become the slogan for 2020. The year’s shifts have been both deep and broad, encompassing personal, social, economic, and even conservation issues. Monitoring programs, including EagleWatch, pivoted to find creative ways to gather critical data during the pandemic while prioritizing the safety of volunteers and staff.
COVID-19 hit just as many eaglets in Florida were preparing to fledge or leave the nest. We pay particular attention to the recorded number of fledglings per nest, as these data are important indicators for the resilience of the Bald Eagle population. We estimate that our ability to monitor roughly 20% of our nests was impacted by the shelter-at-home mandate and the closure of public areas, and unfortunately we lost key data for many nests or were forced to make educated assumptions for other nests with reduced datasets.
Despite these limitations, the Audubon EagleWatch Program finished strong in May with another year of growth. Nest monitoring coverage expanded into five new counties (Glades, Jackson, Levy, Suwanee, and Walton) and more than doubled in eight of the counties where EagleWatch focused on expanding efforts.
Thanks to you, our EagleWatch program has grown!
EagleWatch now monitors nests in 65% of Florida’s counties. The number of nests monitored by EagleWatch grew 15%, from 740 nests last year to 852 nests this season.
I am so proud of all that our volunteers accomplished this season, and I hope the following stories inspire you as you read about what a passionate, committed group of people can do to help wildlife and wild places.
~Shawnlei Breeding, EagleWatch Program Manager, Audubon Florida
Shifts at the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission Forge New
Opportunities for EagleWatch
Last fall, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) met with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the EagleWatch Program Manager Shawnlei Breeding to discuss upcoming changes to FWC’s Eagle Nest Locator and nest ID assignment services associated with changes to the eagle nest monitoring strategies for Florida.
The nesting bald eagle population in Florida is doing well and has met or exceeded statewide conservation goals for the last 20 years. As a result of exceeding the recovery goal and with the permitting responsibilities shifting back to the USFWS, FWC will be reducing their involvement with eagle monitoring in Florida. The FWC will be using EagleWatch and other partner collected data to inform the development of a long-term monitoring strategy for eagles. The FWC Eagle Nest Locator will be transitioned to a static map displaying historical data from FWC aerial surveys from 1998-2017.
EagleWatch will step into the role of providing nest information to stakeholders and will continue to maintain and update the nest map while assigning nest ID’s for new nests reported to EagleWatch and the FWC. FWC staff members have expressed their support for EagleWatch as we assume these functions for our program purposes and will promote the program to their other partners in need of these services.
EagleWatch will now be the only consistent, widespread nest monitoring effort in Florida, and as such plays an important role in protecting nests by documenting new or relocated nest locations each season. Importantly, long-term data on eagles will help us understand the ongoing impact of climate change on this iconic species. EagleWatch will continue to work at the intersection of these issues.