Eagle deaths causing concern in the Cape
Baby eagles found dead near their nests, adults eagles deserting their homes and the disappearance of food sources for the endangered raptors have environmentalists concerned in Cape Coral.
As the Cape continues to develop, some say this has become a more common occurrence.
Pascha Donaldson, president of the Cape Coral Wildlife Trust, was alerted to the dead eaglet Tuesday morning before going to her organization’s ribbon-cutting for its first land acquisition.
“It was on the side of a burrow. It must have been a hawk or an owl that grabbed it out of the nest. When the eagles attacked it, they probably dropped it,” Donaldson said of the baby. “It still had its down feathers, so it was probably a month old.”
Florida Fish & Wildlife took the eaglet so the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service could do a necropsy and testing. Melody Kilborn, communications specialist at FWC, said they received a call about the dead eaglet.
Shawnlei Breeding, program manager for Audubon Eagle Watch, said it has been a disheartening year seeing so many nests fail this year, adding that development plays a factor, but may not tell the whole story.
“Anytime you lose habitat, places the birds can nest becomes an issue. At the same time, eagles have been fairly resilient and are learning to adapt,” Breeding said. “There are nests in neighborhoods and on artificial structures like cell towers. I’m not sure development is the smoking gun.”
For example, Breeding said, there have been reports of drones flying over nests, with scared the eagles away and is illegal.
Donaldson, though, said she thinks development has played a huge factor in the deserted nests.
“Trees are getting less able to nest in and there’s no food source. We used to have open fields with tons of rats and snakes, and the canals for fish. The more concrete we have the less they have. Animals need a food source and that’s where they’re going to go,” Donaldson said.
The number of nests has actually ticked up.
In 2009, there were 46 eagle nests in Lee County. By 2015-16, the last time they were counted, there were more than 55. Statewide, there were 1,568 nests in 2016.
This does not take into account development or the impact Hurricane Irma had on the nests, as the count is done every three years, Kilborn said.
Breeding said many eagles lost nests in Irma, which created some reshuffling, especially with other breeds.
“Great-horned owls compete with eagles for nesting sites and will run off the eagles from their nests or even steal them. We’ve seen a lot of that this year,” Breeding said.
Breeding said it’s been disheartening seeing how eagles have struggled this season, particularly here, but it seems in the end things even out.
“We had a nest here that hadn’t produced young in three years, but have young this year. But it’s disheartening when you’re watching a nest fail and you want to know why,” Breeding said.
Mayor Joe Coviello said the city needs to do all it can to preserve wildlife.
“We have buffer zones for burrowing owls and eagles that the construction industry needs to abide by. They are there for a reason and we need to enforce them as much as possible,” Coviello said.