Near-Extinct Bald Eagles Thriving In Their New Harford County Home

ABERDEEN, Md. (WJZ) — The American bald eagle — now back from the brink of extinction — is literally flocking to an unlikely spot right here in Maryland.

Adam May reveals a new threat to this majestic bird and the critical role we play in protecting this symbol of freedom.

Alongside the U.S. military conducting tests at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, there’s an unlikely partner. American bald eagles, which live across Maryland, are now flocking to this military base in Harford County.

Every year, government scientists study the majestic birds from the air, tracking a surprising change in the eagle population.

WJZ is the first TV station ever allowed to fly over the top-secret Proving Ground. Back in 1977, only one pair of bald eagles lived here.

The birds were on the verge of extinction after the pesticide DDT left eagles sterile and their eggs brittle. Now, decades after banning DDT, there’s an environmental triumph.

May: “How have you seen the population at the Aberdeen Proving Ground change over the last 30 to 40 years?”
Wildlife Biologist John Paul: “It’s really gone up exponentially.”

In fact, biologists discovered Maryland has one of the largest eagle populations in the entire country. During our three-hour flight, we counted 154.

May: “What do the eagles like about the Proving Ground?”
Paul: “The undisturbed shoreline.”

For a closer look, Environmental Protection Specialist Lynda Hartzell took WJZ to a nesting site near a firing range.

May: “So the explosions don’t bother the eagles?”
Hartzell: “They don’t faze them. It’s like background noise to them now.”

A fixed camera at the Proving Ground recorded rare and intimate details of the eagles’ lives. Pairs that mate for life produced more than 80 chicks last year.

“We’re almost a magnet for eagles in this area,” Hartzell explained.

But this explosion in the eagle population leads to a new threat. Eagles need undisturbed shorelines and decades of development along the Chesapeake Bay have destroyed some of their habitat. When too many eagles are crammed into one place, it can lead to dangerous fights over territory.

“Along the western and eastern shorelines of Maryland, we have so much development that it’s putting a lot of pressure on the eagles,” Hartzell said. “The aggressiveness in their combat is a sign that they’re reaching their carrying capacity.”

Eagle populations are growing so dense at Aberdeen and other shorelines along the Chesapeake Bay that some eagles are now moving close to human development where they face another danger– power lines. Last year, dozens of eagles in the mid-Atlantic broke their wings flying into wires at high speeds.

“There’s a fracture right down at the joint that we can’t surgically repair,” one researcher said of an injured eagle.

“The challenge is to preserve their habitat,” Hartzell said.

May: “They can’t all live at Aberdeen.”
Hartzell: “They can’t all live at Aberdeen. There is definitely habitat out there, but we need to make sure we keep continuing to protect it.”

Bald eagles finally made it off the threatened species list in 2007. Of course, most of us can’t see the eagles at the Proving Ground. But there’s another hot spot nearby. To find it, click here.

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  • Brian Butler

    Driving up Route 40 everyone can see a nesting pair right on a telephone pole!! The nest is huge. The nest is just outside Riverside heading north.

  • cp

    DDT was a scam and these eagles can live just about anywhere. They make them seem so fragile when they can adapt to any habitat.

  • Susan Rice

    This information is not new, however, we are glad that the fly over took place and Adam is covering it. The eagles were close to extinction, what does that tell you? They were not committing suicide! Development along the Bay hurts the shoreline, increases pollution and runoff into our most valuable water asset. Many species are displaced or endangered by unwise development. We know of no study that defends it, except, those supported by home builders and development groups.

    • Martin

      MichaelFirst I just wetand to let you know that I found your article in the Winter Issue excellent. It?s good to know there are still good Sportsmen out there. Living in Southern Utah, I have also noticed the decline of the Mule Deer. And I have grown an admiration and respect for this majestic animal.To add to your account of Eagles, I witnessed a sight along with two other guys, in an Iron mine that I worked in. This took place nearly 15 years ago. To begin with, the mine had been worked on for 30-some-odd-years, so was around 400 feet deep. At one corner of the pit there was a spring, covered with willows and salt cedar making it a good place for Mule deer to drink. They where able to enter and exit the opposite end of the mine where over the years the high wall had slid off some 250 onto a safety bench at the same elevation as the water hole. On this particular morning, I stood about 50 below the safety bench talking with my boss, and a Mine Foreman, about where our next shot would be drilled. As we were talking, we saw a small herd of does and fawns making their way down the slide, and trailing their way to the water. We watched in awe as an adult Golden Eagle swooped down on the herd, scattering them in all directions. He circled the inside of the pit and zeroed in on a fawn. On the next pass, he separated the fawn from its mother with careful precision. It then swooped down and lit on the fawn?s back. Confused and disoriented, the fawn scrambled away from it?s mother. The eagle flew above the fawn as it ran, and buried it?s talons in the animal?s back, then released it to make another circle. Then the eagle dove down on the and fawn now the only deer left in sight and this time, grasping the fawns ears in his talons. I didn?t realize just how powerful an adult eagle was until I saw it pick the fawn up, with only the back legs skipping along the ground under it for some 100 feet, then letting it go once again this time sending the fawn tumbling to the ground. The fawn sat, dazed for a moment, then stood, and ran again this time in the direction of its mother. I remember cheering the young deer on as it ran full speed toward the spring and the safety of the vegetation.The eagle circled a few more times, then finally gave up the hunt. I remember that we just looked at each other in disbelief, and I wondered if the eagle would have had any better luck, had we not been there. I also regret not having a camera on hand, but, such is life. Still, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. -SincerelyKelly R. Smith

  • Jeep Mom

    My daughter and I just saw bald eagles on Friday in Pylesville.

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    […] Near-Extinct Bald Eagles Thriving In Their New Harford County Home – American bald eagles, which live across Maryland, are now flocking to this military base in Harford County. Every year … During our three-hour flight, we counted 154. May: “What do the eagles like about the Proving Ground?” Paul: “The undisturbed … […]

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