On Real Estate, New Eagle Pair Not Too Picky

Most bald eagles nest in quiet areas; these are nesting on a median strip.
Most bald eagles nest in quiet areas; these are nesting on a median strip. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
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By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008

You knew George and Martha. Now, meet John and Abigail.

The region's newest pair of urban bald eagles has set up housekeeping in Arlington this spring, raising eaglets in a tree in the median of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. They are the third pair of the birds, now on the rebound from endangered-species status, to settle near Washington's bustling core.

So far, the Arlington nest has not seen the kind of drama -- blood! bereavement! betrayal! -- that unfolded at George and Martha's famous nest near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

But these eagles can still impress. Their new home sits directly over whizzing traffic, and underneath jets on the approach to Ronald Reagan National Airport.

"They just go about their business" in the midst of all that man-made noise, said George Getz, who lives nearby. "And that's what just blows our minds."

Getz said people in his north Arlington neighborhood first noticed the birds late last year, as the eagles built their nest in the crook of a tall tree. Getz said he heard the news from a neighbor, screaming out his car window, "We have eagles! We have eagles!"

Now, there are at least four in the nest. Getz said they named the adult birds after John and Abigail Adams, the second U.S. president and first lady and the subjects of a recent HBO miniseries. When they spotted the first eaglet, Getz said, they named it Quincy. At least one other also has hatched.

Yesterday morning, the nest could be spotted from a hillside in a nearby park: a huge cone of sticks and twigs, from which a white head and downy eaglets occasionally emerged. Getz said he has seen one adult bird -- he thinks it was John -- flying off on hunting expeditions and returning with fish.

In one sense, their nest site is perfect: It offers a commanding view of the birds' fishing grounds on the Potomac River.

In most of the ways that usually matter to eagles, however, it's kind of a dump. The birds generally prefer quiet spots on isolated waterfronts, and this place is neither. In fact, it's so close to the busy parkway that yesterday a National Park Service spokesman issued a stern warning about the danger -- and illegality -- of trying to cross traffic and reach the nest site.

"Stay out," said spokesman Bill Line. "And stay out."

The fact that the eagles are here at all, scientists said yesterday, is a testament to their comeback from a population collapse in the mid-20th century. Their numbers increased after the banning of the eggshell-thinning pesticide DDT, and last year most of the country's eagle populations were removed from the list of threatened species.

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