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Barrier island bald eagles bested Hurricane Ian

Sanibel bald eagle   SCCF.JPG
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
This is one of nine bald eagles, each of which survived Hurricane Ian's wrath on Sept. 28, who returned to see how its nest fared

The nesting bald eagles on Sanibel and Captiva islands went somewhere, and did something, which allowed them all to survive Hurricane Ian’s 150-mph winds and near-direct landfall.

But like many other inhabitants of barrier islands seaward of Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties, the feathered members of America’s special species returned to a place they barely recognized.

That is known thanks to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, whose volunteers monitor nine bald eagle nest structures across Sanibel, Captiva, and North Captiva islands. They watch and record what happens at the nests from October through May and input everything into an Audubon Florida database.

“Unfortunately, our manmade eagle nesting platform was destroyed in the storm, and SCCF is working with partners to determine whether repairs or a replacement are feasible at this time,” said Audrey Albrecht, a shorebird biologist with the SCCF. “Fortunately, the pair that used this nest has previously been observed maintaining a different nest structure nearby, and we are hopeful they will use that one.

“Bald eagles often maintain multiple nest structures and alternate between them.”

We are happy to report that all the birds are accounted for and remain in their territories. Most nest trees are still standing, though the landscape has changed drastically around them. The Australian pines where they nest were completely defoliated, and many surrounding trees were destroyed. Some eagles are busy rebuilding, while others appear to be reconsidering their nest location and may rebuild elsewhere.
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

The bald eagle is known to most Americans as the country’s once-obscure-nearly-extinct, but now-famous-national-bird.

And while not “bald” and never nearing extinction, the white feathers on its head and neck contrasted with a darker coat allow for its appropriate moniker, and its much greater numbers in Canada and Mexico dispelled fears the bird would cease to exist.

Members of SCCF have also surveyed shorebirds that frequent the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico off Southwest Florida since Hurricane Ian made landfall on Sept. 28.

The volunteers said the beaches look a lot different, but the birds haven’t changed.

Sanibel bird habitat volunteers 2 SCCF.JPG
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
Sanibel Island beaches changed shape when Hurricane Ian raked the island with 150-mph winds on Sept. 28

All the typical shorebird species were found post-Ian, including sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, willets, black-bellied plovers, laughing gulls, and royal and sandwich terns.

”Since royal terns don’t reach reproductive maturity until three-to-four year of age, these individuals have been on Sanibel year-round since their first migration away from their natal nesting sites,” Albrecht said. “Knowing that these individuals have survived provides important data.”

Most notably absent are brown pelicans.

“There are many factors that could play into the decrease,” said Aaron White, a SCCF shorebird volunteer. “Just because they aren’t here now doesn’t mean they are gone forever.”

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health.

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