For the first time in nearly 70 years, the U.S. National Arboretum has a bald eagle that has laid eggs in a nest on part of its 400-plus acres in Northeast Washington.
Officials at the arboretum said Friday that although they are not sure how many eggs are in the nest, they believe they were laid in late January and they expect the eaglets to hatch possibly as soon as this week.
The last time a known bald eagle nest was at the arboretum was in 1947.
“We are extremely excited,” Susan Greeley, an agricultural research technician there, said of the nest. “It is the national symbol, and they are here at the National Arboretum.”
Bald eagles have been taken off the endangered species list, but there are strict federal rules protecting them, including that they remain undisturbed while mating and nesting. Laws also require buffer zones to be created around their nesting areas.
For months, experts have been watching the eagles at the arboretum off New York Avenue NE.
Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist with the District’s Department of the Environment, first saw the pair of bald eagles in the fall near Kingman Island, a large island to the south of the arboretum in the Anacostia River.
Then came a sighting of a male eagle carrying a stick — a sign, experts said, that he was building a nest.
Officials lost track of the pair late last year. But in early January, staff at the arboretum told Rauch they saw an eagle pair in a 90-foot tulip poplar tree on the south side of Mount Hamilton. That area has a view of the river and downtown Washington and is considered a quieter part of the property.
Staff at the arboretum said they noticed a “huge twig nest” high up in the tree, according to Greeley.
“It clearly wasn’t a squirrels’ nest,” she said. Squirrels, she said, typically have smaller nests with more leaves. Eagles’ nests are usually larger and made mostly with sticks.
There is no live camera for officials to watch the eagles and the nest up close, but they plan to try to install one next year after the eaglets leave the nest.
Arboretum officials said they don’t know the number of eggs in the nest, but they said an eagle typically has one to three eggs at a time and has an average 35-day incubation period.
“We won’t know how many there are until they peek their heads over the nest,” Greeley said.
For now, the eagles have been seen catching catfish from the Anacostia River and bringing them back to the nest. Somewhat jokingly, the arboretum said they hope they’ll eat some of the groundhogs on the property that are in abundance there. Eagles are known to eat rodents.
There have been other sightings of bald eagles in the region.
In 2013, there was a report of one in Southeast Washington, near a police training academy, but experts said there was a question of whether that pair might have abandoned a nest there, according to Greeley. There was also a report of a bald eagle sighting at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington.
At the arboretum, the tree where the eagles built their nest is also close to the arboretum’s popular azalea collection, which typically blooms in late April and early May. Signs around the roads and trails where the eagles have made their home will keep visitors away, officials said.
For those visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the birds at the arboretum, officials recommend going to the parking lot off M Street NE. From there, visitors can reportedly catch a glimpse of the adult eagles flying to and from the nest.