Admirers of a pair of bald eagles that live near Manassas Regional Airport raised alarms recently about the birds’ safety after noticing a real estate sign and utility work on property in the vicinity of the eagles’ nest.
Concern about the eagles’ welfare spread quickly through social media and drew the attention of federal, state and local authorities, who responded to fears that the eagles’ habitat might be threatened. After visiting the site, officials said they were satisfied that the eagles — which are protected under federal law — are not in jeopardy.
The issue captured the attention of thousands of people after Victor Rook, 51, a Manassas author and blogger, posted a photo on his blog last Sunday showing the eagles’ nest with construction equipment and a “for sale” sign nearby.
“Please don’t tell me that [commercial real estate firm] Weber Rector is actually going to tear down this habitat and destroy the home of our national bird,” Rook wrote on his blog.
Rook said in an interview that he woke up the next day to find that his blog post had been viewed 4,000 times and shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook.
Coleman Rector, president of the
Manassas-based real estate company, soon got wind of the controversy.
“This whole thing blew up, and I started getting calls,” Rector said in an interview. “Everybody thought it’s my property and I’m doing the development. Not the case. I’m the real estate broker.”
Rector said that the eagle’s nest is on city-owned property and that he is trying to sell or lease nearby land for a client. He declined to identify the property owner.
Patty Prince, a spokeswoman for the city of Manassas, said in an interview that the eagles’ nest is in a city park that is the site of Cannon Branch Fort. The city property will not be developed, she said.
Ann McIntyre, 51, of Sterling said the eagles have developed a local following since building their nest in the park two years ago. She can see the eagles from her office, and in warmer weather she often sees people gathering to watch the birds and take pictures.
“The eagles have tried to make a comeback,” said Beverly Vogel, 60, who was raised in Manassas. “This is the first time we’ve seen them this prevalent in Manassas . . . and if they are encroached upon by man, they’re going to move.”
McIntyre and Vogel said they think there are eggs in the nest because the eagles take turns hunting while one stays behind.
Prince said a city contractor was doing utility work in an easement near the park. Workers installed a transfer switch to ensure that electrical service to the airport is more reliable, she said in an e-mail.
State and federal officials responded to concerns raised on Rook’s blog about the possibility that the utility work might violate federal guidelines that establish buffer zones around bald eagles’ nests.
Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, it is illegal to disturb bald eagles, said Meagan Racey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The guidelines are actually management recommendations, and the idea of them is to avoid the likelihood of disturbance,” Racey said, adding that as long as the eagles are not actually disturbed, there is no violation of the federal law.
Kevin Rose, a wildlife biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, visited the site Wednesday. He said that the work site was about 100 meters from the nest, “which would put it right at the edge of what we would consider a good buffer.”
Rose said that because the eagles had built their nest near the airport, railroad tracks and major roads, they are accustomed to human activity and noise.
“The city has done what they’re supposed to do,” Rose said. “Nobody is being negligent out here. . . . As long as this work is right here along the road like it is, in this easement, and the park land that belongs to Manassas is not being developed, there are no real concerns from the state game department about this nest.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.