My husband and I live in a house on the shores of the Port Tobacco River
in Charles County and we are always amazed at the labyrinth of wildlife
and nature we can watch from our living room window. The sight of a bald
eagle perched on one of our moorings as it digs into a freshly caught
fish reminds us weekly, sometimes daily, of how lucky we are to live in
If someone wrote a book about the revival of the bald eagle population
in the United States since bald eagles were listed as endangered several
decades ago, the endurance of this bird of prey in Charles County, as
well as Maryland overall, could take up a major chapter.
In 1977, there were just 41 nesting pairs of bald eagles surveyed in
Maryland, but the Chesapeake Bay's tidal tributaries have become
gateways for this species' future in more recent years. In Maryland
alone in 2004, there were 400 nesting pairs of this majestic bird whose
wingspan can be up to seven feet and whose adult tail and head are a
telltale white. (Young eagles are brown and often mistaken for hawks.)
Today, Southern Marylanders can regularly see adult bald eagles on the
hunt or perched in trees at a range of locations, from remote Point
Lookout State Park in St. Mary's County, to the tiny jut of Cobb Island,
off of Route 254 at the junction of the Potomac and Wicomico rivers, or
by taking in the pristine view from Friendship Landing pier, off of
Route 425, on the Nanjemoy Creek. Southern Maryland also has a healthy
population of young eagles, points out Connie Sutton, a park ranger at
Flag Ponds Nature Park in Calvert County.
In 2004, Charles County had the second highest number of nesting bald
eagle pairs in the state, with 54 nesting sites noted in the Maryland
Department of Natural Resources' last aerial survey, says Glenn Therres,
an associate director with the state's wildlife and heritage service who
heads up the state DNR's endangered species efforts. (The highest number
was in Dorchester County, which boasted 84 nesting pairs, where the
highly regarded Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is located.)
There is no question that critical area laws and protection zones around
nesting sites have helped with the recovery of the bald eagle, but the
challenge remains how officials will continue to ensure healthy bald
eagle populations as Southern Maryland continues to morph from the
impact of increased development. In addition to bald eagles that migrate
here, the area also has wandering year-round residents.
Naturalists and biologists stress that people should not seek out
nesting sites or disturb incubating eagles during their nesting season
and when the young are learning how to fly, hunt and fend for
themselves. Many parks, in fact, close down trails and areas near
nesting sites during mating season (which begins in late winter) and
while eagles are very young. Chesapeake Bay eagles leave their nests
between May and July.
"I see eagles practically every day," says Newburg resident Mike
Callihan, who moved to Charles County three years ago and is the raptor
conservation committee chairman of the Southern Maryland Audubon
Society. He adds that he's even seen bald eagles in the more-developed
and populated Waldorf region - a true sign of the times.
Not only is the bald eagle our national symbol, its recovery is a
"success story" about adaptability and survival as well as man's
interest in protecting a species from extinction, according to Therres.
Therres attributes the recovery of the bald eagle in the United States
to the banning of DDT, an organocloride, but also says that the reason
the number of nesting pairs is so high in Charles County is because it
has a lot of "undeveloped wooded shoreline." Bald eagles like to nest in
pine trees and prefer shallow tidal waters where fish are abundant.
But Therres' insight also comes with a tale of caution: "If the
shoreline of Charles County becomes [developed like] the shoreline of
Northern Anne Arundel or Baltimore County, you won't have as many
The state's yearly nesting pair counts have been discontinued because
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in 1999 delisting the bald
eagle from the Endangered Species Act - though it will still be
protected - and because population recovery goals have been met for the
Chesapeake Bay area.
Therres says the hope years ago was that eventually there would be 250
to 400 nesting pairs sustained over a five-year period in Maryland,
Virginia, Delaware, southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey and that
this goal has been "well exceeded."
Nearby Parks for Eagle-Viewing
Caledon Natural Area
Caledon Rd., King George, Va.
Flag Ponds Nature Park
Flag Ponds Parkway, off of Route 2-4
Lusby, Calvert County
Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary
Fenno Rd., Upper Marlboro
Prince George's County
Point Lookout State Park
Point Lookout Rd., off of Route 5
St. Mary's County
Smallwood State Park
Route 224, Marbury, Charles County