More Eagles Find Home in New River Gorge
Dozens of people gathered in the New River Gorge on Saturday, March 2 to participate in the annual spring eagle survey. Thirty-five eagles were spotted, a significant increase from just a few years ago.
At least 62 people participated in the eagle survey, including several who were stationed off Route 20 outside Hinton at the Brooks Island overlook. They had a telescope pointed to a nest, where a pair of bald eagles are incubating an egg.
"Last year they had two chicks that were successfully fledged. Now we have at least one, hopefully, if nothing goes wrong,” said Wendy Perrone, executive director of Three Rivers Avian Center. She and her husband have been watching the Brooks Island eagle nest for years.
Perone said this is the fourth pair of eagles to use this nest in the past decade. At one point during the morning, the male eagle flew in to relieve the female and give her a break.
"The female does most of the incubation, but he relieves her and lets her go take a little bit of time off every now and then, you know, go to the bath or eat or whatever you know," Perrone said.
Since 1981, more eagles have been spotted every year in southern West Virginia, and even more remarkably, many of them are nesting here. Jim Phillips, the volunteer organizer of this event, said the eagle resurgence is largely due to fewer pesticides, like DDT, in the environment.
"In the 1970s we didn’t see any bald eagles," he said.
As the eagle population grows, so too does the number of people who travel to the Gorge for this event. Pipestem State Park featured several eagle-themed educational events, marketing this as "eagle weekend" for the influx of tourists.
"I like to watch the eagle because I think it’s majestic, and I think the bald eagle is just beautiful,” said Barbara Koster, one visitor who traveled from Kanawha County to participate. Koster saw several eagles Saturday, including one that dove into the New River to catch a fish.
Phillips, the event organizer, added that bald eagles, in particular, seem to have a special allure.
"I don’t know how many people I’ve seen turn into bird watchers just looking at a bald eagle," Phillips said. "Their mouth drops open and they think 'wow, there’s a lot of stuff here that I need to get to know,' and it’s in their own backyard."
Phillips said 35 eagles were spotted on Saturday, and although it wasn’t the highest number on record, the high waters from recent rains likely drove many of the birds to the forest to seek shelter and food.