Two young eagles recently discovered nesting in Montgomery County were not banded by the National Wildlife Federation as stated in the May 29 Maryland Weekly. Workers were unable to reach the nest and may attempt banding next spring, a spokesman said.
Bird watchers will attest that the bald eagle in recent decades has avoided Montgomery County. Driven out of much of this area by use of the deadly pesticide DDT, the national symbol flew elsewhere to survive. Until recently, the last one was spotted in the county about 25 years ago.
But eagles have begun to come home to Montgomery, and their return has not gone unnoticed.
On an island in the Montgomery stretch of the Potomac River, representatives of the National Wildlife Federation last week placed white plastic identification bands on a pair of two-month-old eaglets, while an adult eagle soared above the nest. The eagle's mate was believed to be off fishing or foraging.
The banding was part of a 10-year federation project to study the bald eagle population in the Chesapeake Bay area, said Tony Steffer, a field biologist working on the study. Project director Keith Cline said each tag has an identification number so that later sightings of the birds may be recorded. This helps to trace migratory patterns and document their survival.
"We spotted the nest on an earlier aerial flight we made this spring over the area," Cline said, declining to identify the location. "We're really happy with this find. Three eagles is a good start for the area."
Cline said a few other eagles have been spotted in the Montgomery area during the winter, but their nests have not been located.
The return of the eagles to Montgomery, part of a general bird population increase in the region, comes 13 years after a federal ban on the use of DDT.
The pesticide did the eagles in by lowering the calcium levels in females, making their egg shells too thin to survive the incubation period.
In 1977, Cline said, there were 77 occupied nests in the Chesapeake region. Today, he said, there are at least 130, primarily located along tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
He said eagles had lived primarily near the bay in the 20 years DDT was sprayed on crops in this area. The bay was the "optimum habitat for them at that time, considering all the bad conditions," he said.
Cline said that as DDT concentrations lessened, eagles moved out along the rivers -- the Susquehanna, James, Rappahannock and Potomac.
Other new breeding areas include Prince George's and Loudoun counties, Cline said. He said that for the past six years, two to three nesting pairs with young have been sighted along the river in Prince George's.
Cline said the eagles were drawn back to the Potomac, at least in part, as the river was cleaned up and fishing improved.
The banding operation's objective of studying how and where the eagles migrate means painstaking and meticulous record keeping, Cline said. Some eagles are equipped with fancy tracking systems, solar-powered transmitters worn on their backs.
"There is a trend toward using the transmitters, but the identification bands are effective," Cline said. "We need to study why the birds go where they do. Some stay in the bay area year-round, but others leave and migrate northward. We had one which left Maryland in July with a tag, we found it in Ontario last September."
Cline said he had not heard of any problems with curiosity-seekers bothering the Montgomery eagles in their new island home. He said, "There are always a few overzealous people, but we hope they'll appreciate the eagles and pretty much let them alone."