Bald Eagles Have Rebounded in Virginia


The bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2007.  The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources participated in bald eagle research by recording population data prior to and during the time they were listed as endangered.  The DWR continues working today to protect bald eagles.   Jeff Cooper has more.  He is a Wildlife Biologist with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.  He works primarily with bald eagles, golden eagles and other raptors.

“The bald eagle recovery is one of the greatest wildlife management success stories,” says Cooper.  “For example, in Virginia during the early 70’s, we had, maybe, just over thirty some odd breeding pairs. Now, in Virginia, we certainly have well over a thousand, probably fifteen hundred, maybe approaching two thousand breeding pairs across the state.  Pretty dramatic recovery and then on top of that in Virginia, on the tidal rivers along the Chesapeake Bay, we get visitation of thousands of migrants during the winter months and during the summer months.  So, we have thousands of eagles that pass through Virginia annually.”

After World War II, DDT and other contaminants that were widely used caused eggshell thinning with bald eagles.  Since the eggs would crack, the number of eagles fell dramatically.  After DDT was banned in the early 70’s, the eagles made a comeback.  The recovery was slow for decades, but picked up rapidly during the 2000’s.

Bald eagles are still protected under the Federal Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“Basically, you can’t shoot, harm, harass, kill is basically what that act says,” says Cooper.  “You can’t cut a nest tree down.  You can’t shoot the birds.  You can’t intentionally harass the birds, things of that nature.  There are some habitat recommendations that go along with that act, that the feds go by, and we help them sometimes with looking at nest sites in Virginia, near construction or logging sites, that sort of thing.  To see if those guidelines can be applied to certain situations.”

Bald eagles are one of the top predators in the ecosystem.  They primarily eat fish during the spring and summer, but they often switch to scavenging during this time of year.

“They’re cool birds,” says Cooper.  “Go out and watch them along our rivers.  You can see them more and more inland now, especially in western Virginia, you know, Highland County, Bath County, the Shenandoah Valley.  You can see eagles everywhere.  We are getting a big influx of eagles now as the months are cooling down and birds from Canada and the Northeast are moving into Virginia.  Just be on the lookout for them, especially this time of year, with the roadkill deer.  They will feed on dead deer this time of year and sometimes they get hit on the side of the road.  Just be cautious of that.”

You can learn more about the bald eagle recovery efforts of the DWR, and all of it’s wildlife work, on the website

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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