Bald eagle distribution, abundance, roost use and response to human activity on the northern Chesapeake Bay, Maryland

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Virginia Tech


I studied bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) distribution, abundance, roost use and response to human activity on the northern Chesapeake Bay from 1984-89. The eagle population consisted of Chesapeake breeding eagles, Chesapeake nonbreeding eagles, northern-origin eagles and southern-origin eagles; changes in overall eagle distribution and abundance reflected the net changes in these 4 groups. Breeding territories on the northern Chesapeake increased from 12 to 28 from 1984 to 1988. Breeding eagles were resident all year, always ~7 km from the nest. Chesapeake nonbreeding eagles moved throughout most of the bay, but rarely left it (~5% of the radio-tagged eagles were off the bay during any month). Northern eagles migrated into the bay in late fall (x = 21 December! n = 7! range = 61 days) and departed in early spring (x = 27 March, n = 14, range = 43 days). Southern eagles arrived on the northern bay throughout April-August (x = 6 June, n = 11, range = 94 days) and departed from June - October (x = 3 September, n = 22, range = 119 days). Northern Chesapeake eagle abundance peaked twice annually; in winter (261 eagles, December 1987), driven by the presence of northern eagles, and in summer (604 eagles, August 1988), driven by the presence of southern birds. Of 1,117 radio-tagged eagle locations, only 55 (4.90/0) occurred in human-developed habitat, which composed 27.7% of 1,442 km2 of potential eagle habitat on the northern Chesapeake Bay (P < 0.001). During 36 aerial shoreline surveys, eagles were observed on only 111 of 700 (15.9%) 250-m shoreline segments that had development within 100 m, whereas eagles were observed on 312 of 859 (36.30/0) segments when development was absent (P < 0.001). On average, eagles were observed on 1.0 segment/survey that had coincident pedestrian use within 500 m, compared to 3.6 segments/survey expected if eagles and pedestrians were distributed along the shoreline independently (n = 34 surveys, P < 0.001).