Your Azalea-Eaglet Update by Susan Harris

I posted recently about the birth of two bald eaglets at the National Arboretum and the totally addictive Eagle Cam recording the action. I mentioned having unanswered questions about restrictions on the public’s access to their famous azalea collection, blooming nearby and now, with the email glitch between the Arboretum and me fixed, I have the answers.

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Arboretum spokesperson Sharon Durham wrote that the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act come into play here and it’s the former that dictates restrictive zones and what activities can occur within them. Two zones have been established –  at 660′ (no vehicles or other noisy activities) and at 330′ (very limited human activity, including no members of the public even on foot). She says the rule of thumb is that “Whatever activity is going on when they build the nest, that is the level of activity they will be okay with. Thus, the ability of staff in that area being able to do their jobs, with the exception of really loud noises, such as chain saws.”

I asked if the pair would return the next year. “Yes, they will return to the same nest every year, until the tree or nest falls over; then they will rebuild nearby.”

And at my silly question whether the birds could be directed to a less prominent location next time next year, “No, you cannot ‘direct’ the eagles, they are wild birds. They need large, tall trees and access to food (mostly fish). They have a territory so the likelihood of another pair nearby, within the Arboretum, at this point seems unlikely.”

Best Views of the Azaleas

More from Durham: “Visitors can access the lower portion of the Glenn Dale hillside and all the azaleas in the Morrison and Lee Garden areas. They can see the rest on the cameras!”

Arboretum visitors, like everyone, are mesmerized by the eaglets.

The Eagle Cam is a hit at the Arboretum’s welcome desk.

And head of gardens Scott Aker emailed to say that “Visitors can walk beyond the vehicle barricade to the pedestrian barricade. This amounts to a third to a half of the area planted with azaleas on the hillside.”

I asked about the tram, a popular way to see the azaleas and according to Scott:

The tram will not be travelling the customary loop through the National Boxwood Collection and Azalea Collections.  It will travel Eagle’s Nest Road (yes, this has always been the name of this road!) and half of the collections can still be seen from the alternate tram route. Native azaleas can be seen in the Fern Valley Native Plant Collection and there are azaleas in the Gotelli Conifer Collection, Asian Collections, and the Introduction Garden.

Great point, Scott, and I have a couple of photos to illustrate it.


In the Bonsai and Penjing Museum.


In Fern Valley

And whether you care about azaleas or not (and I really don’t – I’d much rather watch eagles) all this attention may be a boon to the entire Arboretum in need of some love and money, right? Scott thinks so:

Yes, definitely. The eagles tell the story of the importance of setting aside spaces for public gardens, parks, and mature woodlands in our urban areas. The eagles require large, mature trees or snags to nest in; the ecosystem benefits of trees are much more substantial when those trees are large and mature.

Of course, the eagles are a sure sign of environmental improvement, and the Arboretum has long been committed to management of its 446 acres to maximize the health of the environment. This is still an urban area, and there is still much to be done to improve environmental quality in the surrounding urban areas. While the Anacostia River is much cleaner than it was in past decades, even more benefits will be realized when additional clean-up is completed.

The eagles are allowing us to engage new audiences and raise awareness for the Arboretum’s mission and the broader mission of the Agricultural Research Service in using scientific research to solve problems of agricultural production and sustainability of agricultural systems. We hope that those who have discovered the wonders of nature represented by the eaglets will take a closer look at all the wonders of the plant kingdom that we make available to them as well.

And from the FAQs at the Eagle Foundation, here’s why this is such a big deal:

Although we can’t be certain how many eagles have nested in this specific geographic location, we do know that this is the first pair of eagles to nest in the National Arboretum in Washington, DC in almost 70 years. (The last known pair was in 1947.)

Name the Eaglets!

Back to the mesmerizing chicks, which grow up so fast we won’t be calling them that (or eaglets) very long.  Right now they have starter names –  DC2 and DC3 – and your suggestions for better names are needed.

Hashtag #dceaglecam & #namethenestlings on Twitter and Instagram, or visit the American Eagle Foundation’s Facebook page or the Department of Energy & Environment’s Facebook page and voice your suggestions there!

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Who could resist that face?

I’m curious about how many other people around the world are watching these guys every day, like I am (not ALL day but still…) The traffic counter at the Eagle Cam site reports upwards of 1,600 people watching at one time, the times I’ve checked.

I’m also wondering – is anyone else freaked out by the website’s warning about terrible things that could happen?

This is a wild eagle nest and anything can happen. While we hope that two healthy juvenile eagles will end up fledging from the nest this summer, things like sibling rivalry, predators, and natural disaster can affect this eagle family and may be difficult to watch.

Predators, falling out of nests – yikes! I’m so attached to these wild animals by now, I’m actually nervous every time I check in on them.

Thanks again to the American Eagle Foundation. for the images here and for allowing us to watch wild birds so closely, and to their partners in this endeavor. (Check out this article to find out how the cameras got there in the first place.)

Your Azalea-Eaglet Update originally appeared on Garden Rant on April 15, 2016.


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