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Nov 20 2013

Eagle Family Enjoys Its New Home On Dewees Island

By Judy Drew Fairchild for the Island Eye News

For two years, Dewees Island residents have been thrilled with the presence of a Bald Eagle pair nesting in full view on an Osprey Platform. In February of 2012, we noticed that the eagles, who had been roosting on the platform at night, were now tending an egg or two, with one bird constantly sitting on the nest. That pair fledged a chick, and then surprised us by returning the next year to nest. Again, last year, they fledged a chick, and then they stayed nearby until late June.

This summer, we had several significant storms with lightning, and the eagle platform suffered some damage. The top of the platform was attached by a small support and a few nails. A huge chunk of the pole had splintered off and lay sprawled on the underbrush below.

We were concerned that the pole would not support the weight of nest material, and that if a strong wind came in while the sticks were there, it might blow the nest down and kill a chick before it fledged. So the Dewees Island Conservancy pitched in and bought a new pole.

Installing it was quite a project, especially because the whole thing had to be put together in one day, after the eagles left the nest in the morning and before they came back at night. Lori, the island ecologist, ordered the pole and rounded up some helpers for the task. In the video below, you can watch as the eagle platform gets a makeover.

Throughout the process, there were unforeseen challenges and the staff and crew met them with aplomb. The original bolt holding the platform was bent and needed to be straightened before it could be removed, and then really straightened before it could be re-inserted through the new pole. (No rigging outfit in the Charleston area had a replacement pole big enough to replace that one.) In addition, the only way we could attach the new nest was to basically smash it up against the platform after it was mounted, and thread it on with grapevine.

We didn’t want to use the hardware cloth from the first platform for fear the sharp edges could endanger a chick, and for the same reason, string was out of the question. We tried to keep the basic shape, leaving the sticks the eagles had assembled in roughly the same places. And then, there were some gut-wrenching moments where we wondered if any of the sticks would stay on.

At the end of the day, we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the eagles, wondering if they would accept the new platform. This one was 4 feet by 4 feet, while the other was 3 feet by 3 feet, so it was substantially bigger. Would they accept the sad cobbled nest we assembled? It looks like it. They have spent quite a few nights there recently, bringing new sticks and rearranging them. If you are on the island and want to see them, you need to look either early in the morning or late in the evening.

I’ve had several encounters with neighbors as I sat near the nest platform watching over the last few days, and it makes me glad to be part of a community where we stop to take in the everyday wonders around us.

So far, each day has brought the eagles to the platform with new sticks. Each day, they seem to stay a little later, rearranging the sticks and bringing more. They are even bringing sticks with bits of live evergreen, which supposedly either keeps parasites away, or signals to other birds that the nest is active, or both.

To watch a video of the eagles on their new nest visit http://deweesislandblog.com/2013/10/30/digiscoping-views-eagles-eating-preening/.

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