by Lisa Schauer
A pair of bald eagles has built a huge nest atop a tall sycamore tree at the edge of a hayfield along Sleepy Creek’ s middle branch in south Morgan County.
At about five feet wide and four feet high, the eagles’ nest has grown nearly two feet since last year, according to neighbors and workmen on the one-lane bridge, some whom have watched the pair for years.
Bald eagles are one of few species that mate for life, often not choosing another mate even if one of the pair dies. And this pair shows signs they may be raising fledglings in their nest.
“We think they have babies in there, by the way she looks into the nest, and he brings her food,” said Retha Knave of Berkeley Springs. She, with husband Eddie, and other neighbors, has been watching the pair for a few years.
“They’re so beautiful,” said Knave in wonder, herself an animal lover with a menagerie that includes a small flock of peacocks and a coop full of chicks guarded from fox by a pet pig named Dudley.
The female bald eagle peers into the nest and disappears inside, her white head barely visible above the nest’s edge. She sits inside, waiting for her partner to return with meat. There she’ll stay for up to 12 weeks, until their surviving fledglings will emerge and start to learn how to soar and hunt for themselves.
The bald eagle’ s male partner, diminutive compared to his larger, thicker missus, sits quietly on a tree branch located above the nest, observing the scene below. He appears undeterred by normal human activity, until one gets too close for comfort, and he spreads his six-foot wingspan, diving into the wood’s cover.
These predators dine on fish caught in nearby rivers, streams and lakes. Eagle-eyed, they also catch small animals including rabbit, turtles, snakes and waterfowl, sometimes partially migrating to coastal areas in search of food, returning to the area where they were born.
This pair is one of about 130 pairs of nesting bald eagles in the state last year, according to West Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources. Twelve years ago, only about 36 pairs existed and they’ve steadily repopulated.
The first nesting pair of Bald Eagles in West Virginia was discovered only in 1981, along the South Branch of the Potomac River.
Most prominent and largest in Alaska, bald eagles’ territory now extends along wetlands across the lower 48, where the eagles grow smaller in the south.
The bald eagle was adopted as America’ s national symbol in 1782, but it was driven nearly extinct due to hunting and loss of habitat.
At one time, it was extremely rare to see a bald eagle, but now with the success of conservation measures, more Americans can experience the thrill of spotting this majestic bird.