By Ray Emerson
JIA Lead Park Ranger
While spring may be thought of as the time of rebirth and renewal, particularly in nature, that time occurs in the fall for those of us in conservation. That’s the time of year when the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) return to Jekyll. Whether it be sightings on the electrical towers in the intracoastal waterway, soaring in the skies above the island, or on the primary nest down the Crane Road bike path, we know a new season of life is about to begin.
From about Thanksgiving weekend through the first week of December we watch for a behavioral change, specifically one of the pair constantly on the nest, indicating incubation has begun. About 35 days later behaviors change again as one or both parents can be observed tearing off small pieces of prey and dipping into the nest to feed one or more tiny mouths within. Several days later, if we’re in the right place at the right time, we catch a glimpse of a fuzzy little head (maybe more than one) peering out over the rim of the nest.
The eaglets grow quickly and by the end of March, are nearly the size of their parents. They can often be seen flexing their wings and working their way up into the highest limbs above their nest. Sometime after the first of April they’ll take that initial leap of faith, soaring out over the marsh as they take their first flight. Soon afterward, they’re gone, leaving the nest to strike out on their own at a time when Mother Nature has ensured the most favorable conditions for them to establish and flourish.
Bald eagles are not typically hot weather birds, and Jekyll’s are no exception. Thus, migration begins in the fall with the eagles moving north until the process begins again. In regard to the cute little eaglets, we don’t know what happens after they’ve fledged as we don’t tag or identify them in any way. But sentimentally, as I see juvenile eagles around Jekyll, I often say to myself: “I bet I knew you when you were just a fuzz ball in your nest.”
Coastal Georgia’s value to birds as a migratory stopover and a seasonal refuge is immense. Your generosity enables the Foundation to do everything we can to make sure Jekyll Island is part of the conservation solution for birds—from research and monitoring to educational partnerships and programs.
Donate now to help migratory bird conservation and research efforts on Jekyll Island.