Sightings of bald eagles at Gatewood Reservoir and Claytor Lake have been reported in recent months. According to a guide issued by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), the eagles mate during January and February, and begin to lay eggs between mid-January and late March. Most of these hatch between early March and early May, with eaglets remaining in their nests 11 to 12 weeks after hatching.
Conservation Police Officer Troy Phillips says bald eagles have gradually made their way inland to bodies of water like Claytor Lake, Gatewood Reservoir, and Lake Powhatan. “They like to hunt fish to nest near these food sources, so it’s not uncommon to see them nesting near our bodies of water.”
Bald eagles are powerful birds weighing up to 14 pounds with a wingspan of up to eight feet. They are mostly dark brown until they are four to five years old, causing them to be sometimes confused with golden eagles.
Bill Bassinger, district wildlife biologist for VDGIF in Marion, says VDGIF doesn’t maintain a database of sightings, but do get “numerous calls each year requesting general information on eagles because someone has just seen one.”
“Over time, the last 15-20 years in my area in the New River Valley, I have noticed a gradual increase in the population of bald eagles,” said Phillips. “I attributed that to them being on the endangered list. I believe they have been removed from that list now, because there have been aggressive management efforts to keep those birds of prey protected.”
Bassinger says he “can’t really speak to the numbers in Pulaski but as stated by officer Phillips, the population is on the rise. We have documented successful nesting bald eagle pairs in Bland, Pulaski and Washington Counties.
“Bald eagles were removed from the endangered list in Aug. 2007,” said Bassinger. Even though the bald eagle has been delisted under the Endangered Species Act, it will continue to be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Originally passed in 1940, this law protects the bald eagle and the golden eagle (as amended in 1962) by prohibiting the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit. “Take” is defined under the act as to pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb (16 U.S.C. 668(a); 50 CFR 22) an eagle or their parts, nest, or eggs.
Amendments added in 1972 increased civil penalties for violating provisions of the Act to a maximum fine of $5,000 or one year imprisonment with $10,000 or not more than two years in prison for a second conviction, according to fsw.gov. Felony convictions carry a maximum fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment. The fine doubles for an organization. Rewards are provided for information leading to arrest and conviction for violation of the Act.
For more information on bald and golden eagles in our area, visit dgif.virginia.gov. and fsw.gov.