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Posted In: Birding, James River

James River eagle population continues extraordinary rise

Andy Thompson

September 22, 2014 11:53am
An adult bald eagle hangs out near the nest with two 10-wk old chicks along the James River. Credit:

An adult bald eagle perches near its nest with two 10-week old chicks along the James River. Credit:

Back in early September, the Center for Conservation Biology released a report on the bald eagle population along the James River that I think is worth highlighting.

Every year scientists with the CCB conduct aerial surveys (via a Cessna 172) on the James from Powhatan County to the mouth of the river. As lead scientist Bryan Watts writes on the CCB blog:

Despite harsh weather conditions early in the breeding season, the bald eagle population along the James River continued to push forward in 2014. The 2014 aerial survey conducted by The Center for Conservation Biology recorded 223 pairs that produced 313 young. This population increase (8%) over 2013 matches the 30-year average.

The 223 pairs in 2014 was up from 205 pairs last year. Watts added that the “areas supporting the highest densities include Charles City County (50 pairs), James City County (35 pairs), Surry County (33 pairs), and Prince George County (26 pairs).”

The CCB has a really cool “Eagle Nest Locator” map on their site that allows web surfers to see where all the nests that Watts and his colleagues have mapped are, when the nests were last occupied (if not currently), and more. It’s definitely worth a look, if you haven’t seen it. It really gives you a sense for the distribution of bald eagles throughout the state.

Results of bald eagle breeding survey along the James River from 1964 through 2014.Writes Watts: The James River population represents the best example of bald eagle recovery in the nation. By the early 1960s the once thriving population had been reduced to below 15 pairs due to environmental contaminants and by the mid-1970s no pairs remained along the river. Following the decline of banned compounds like DDT, recovery began with a single pair in 1980. Recovery was slow in the early years and as recently as 2000 the river supported only 57 pairs that produced 85 young. Since 2000, breeding eagles along the James have quadrupled resulting in one of the densest populations in eastern North America.

About Andy Thompson

I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?