The protection accorded to the American bald eagle has allowed its presence to again become something not quite common but far less than rare in many states, including Georgia.
Add in the wondrous abilities of national/global electronic communications, as Berry College is in the process of further proving, and the whole world may soon be watching the life cycle in the Greater Rome area of what, since 1782, has been the national emblem of the United States. It is also the national bird … and national animal.
By the way, Benjamin Franklin was a strong dissenter to this choice, preferring it be the turkey. Wonder what would now be the mainstay on the Thanksgiving menu had Franklin prevailed? Incidentally, the eagle (doubtless not tasty, certainly tough) is not actually “bald” – that is the English term of earlier times used to describe “white headed.”
Once an endangered species, the American bald eagle was removed from that list in 2007. However, the need for ongoing protection may not yet be quite over … and for Berry’s new resident population as well. More on that aspect shortly but first more on Greater Rome adding a tourist attraction not cast in terms of the revenues it might bring in.
Environmentalists, bird watchers, nature lovers and just regular citizens now have added opportunity to observe a pair of nesting bald eagles in coming months and years due to the addition/improvement of remote video cameras keeping constant vigilance upon a well-publicized eagle homestead nest in the very heart of Berry’s campus.
This is actually quite uncommon, as eagles are known to dislike and avoid human activity/presence nearby, particularly when nesting. Still, the pair that produced two offspring earlier this year are expected back soon, and probably for many years to come as the huge birds live an average of 20 years.
NOT SURPRISING, a Berry that highly values its natural setting has proven a very welcoming host – even relocating plans for a new football stadium southward so lights, noise and crowds will be less able to disturb visitors that arrive by wing. In the process it is making it easier for everyone, everywhere to watch the eagles while comfortably seated before home computers … or holding a smartphone, for that matter.
Instead of the one quick-reaction camera put up at a distance when the nest was first discovered, Berry now has two in place. One is a “nestcam” looking right into the homestead nursery, the other a better-placed webcam to cover the approach. Additionally, these have infrared capabilities – meaning they can show what is going on at night as well as day. This is the only such setup in Georgia (there are several others around the country) and is now readily available, 24/7/365, at www.berry.edu/eaglecam.
In a not entirely amusing thought, apparently the bald eagles at Berry will be keeping up with their American heritage by being under constant surveillance. As human citizens learned not all that long ago, pretty much everything done on the Internet, phone and similar, is also being monitored.
Nor might this be the only such nest in the area or soon to arrive. Not only is Berry the world’s largest campus at 27,000 acres, much of it in conservation/wildlife management status, but there are lot of mountainous, heavily wooded spaces with rivers and lakes in this immediate area – the eagles hunt/eat mostly fish.
During the past year, just at Berry, sightings have been reported of the original nesting pair, their two offspring … and four other “juvenile” eagles. The birds don’t start mating until the age of 4 or 5 … and usually return to the area where they were born to nest. Thus there could soon be, perhaps even already are, other undiscovered (or unreported) nests in less visible locations on the Berry campus … or Johns Mountain/The Pocket and elsewhere.
AT THIS POINT, a new concern should arise actually caused by the same environmental instincts that allowed the eagle comeback and will make the Berry webcams a popular site to visit.
A recent survey by federal biologists reported that wind-energy facilities have killed at least 67 American bald or golden eagles in the past five years. The most recent study, by the way, excluded the five wind-farm operations at Altamont Pass in northern California where it is known about 60 eagles a year perish – among the 4,000 birds there annually sucked into blades that although looking slow-moving actually go up to 170 mph at their tips and literally suck anything aloft into them … sort of like a tornado.
Also known to find such gigantic fans dangerous are bat populations, of which this region has several species in the threatened classification.
An Associated Press investigation earlier this year chronicled how nothing was being done to prosecute or fine wind companies for this even though any eagle death by such means (or by brainless target shooting, as whooping cranes passing through this area have suffered) is against federal law.
Eagles have wide ranges and as their population increases carve out new “territories” for not only nesting but also foraging.
There is already active planning for a wind farm on Treat Mountain in southern Polk County.
At Rocky Mountain (hydroelectric project) in Floyd County – very near Berry College and with several lakes where eagles might like to go fishing – a test by Green Energy EMC of the feasibility for possible wind-farm operations for owner Oglethorpe Power found less-than-perfect conditions but added “a small-scale project could be feasible.” A graphic with possible locations showed four wind-turbine sites (three on the side near the lakes).
IT IS ACTUALLY not uncommon for environmental and conservation groups to find themselves working at cross purposes or even finding themselves where pursuing the interests of one could do great harm to a goal of the other. It is simply a topic generally not receiving much publicity, although the wind industry itself has worked out newer designs that appear to reduce – although not eliminate – this particular risk that also heavily impacts hawks and falcons. Come to think of it, in these parts at least, Hawks and Falcons are honored symbols almost as much as bald eagles.
The American bald eagles – potentially at Berry, possibly throughout this region, and certainly across the nation – are a reviving population. Wind is a growing area of interest in the pursuit of alternative sources of energy.
The Berry webcam aimed at the still-empty nest at the moment is mostly featuring the strength of breezes up high in the pine homestead as the needles are shown in movement. This should spark a question now in little evidence: In the long run, which do humans find more important if they cannot safely share the same general space? Eagles or wind power?
Finding an answer, or a compromise, should be of as much interest as wondering when the Berry eagles will again show up.