Electrocutions, territorial fights and crash landings were just some of the setbacks to the 2014 osprey and bald eagle nesting season. Despite that, the birds were able to have a productive season in Pinellas County.
Of 35 active nests, 44 young eagles grew large enough to be able to fly, with 23 of the nests being productive this year.
Osprey nests are not as closely monitored but there are an estimated 400 mating pairs in the county.
The nesting season for bald eagles in Florida typically extends from Oct. 1 through May 15 while the osprey season extends from December to June.
According to Barb Walker of the Clearwater Audubon Society, the ratio between active eagle nests and fledglings was not ideal. A healthy ratio should be around 1.5 fledglings per active nest.
But it's an improvement over last year's numbers, where out of 35 active nests only 19 were productive, producing 35 fledglings. An outbreak of fungal infections and avian pox hurt nestings last year.
A nest at Honeymoon Island lost two chicks last year to respiratory infections. This year the same nest had better results.
"There were two healthy chicks," park manager Peter Krulder said. "Last we know, they've taken off to wherever they'll spend the rest of the year."
Competition was the main problem affecting this year's season. Due to a loss in the number of tall trees in the county, ospreys and eagles often fight with each other or between their own species for available nesting space. A fight this year between two adult males at Cooper Point left one of the combatants dead.
"The territory battles are a possible indication that the species has reached natural carrying capacity," Walker said.
This loss of habitat can also cause the birds to choose man-made structures for nesting, such as cellphone towers and even high-voltage transmission lines. This creates problems for utility companies that cannot undergo repairs on these structures while the nests are active.
Duke Energy provides financial support to the Eagle Eyes on the Environment program, which builds artificial structures where eagles and ospreys can build nests.
"Hopefully if we are building structures that the birds can use then they won't have the need to build a nest on our power lines," Duke Energy spokesman Sterling Ivey said.
Another problem associated with nest failures is inexperience on the part of young eagle pairs. Their sharp talons can puncture an egg as they move around the nest. Sometimes it takes a few practice rounds before a pair of nesting eagles can produce a full fledgling.
But raising the chicks itself can be the most problematic.
"The first flight usually goes fine," Walker said. "Landing, not so much."
A bald eagle from Pinellas Park embarked on its first flight this year in inclement weather when it crash-landed, breaking a wing and a leg. Walker took the eagle to Busch Gardens Animal Hospital, where the bird is recovering .
Cases like this are not uncommon and further demonstrate the many hurdles these young birds must go through in growing to adulthood.
According to Walker, the Audubon Society has participated in more than 25 bird rescues this season.
Will Hicks can be reached at [email protected]