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Celebrity eagles get too much attention

Natural ResourcesNatureEndangered SpeciesConservationWest Broward High SchoolDeath

The Pembroke Pines Police Department said Tuesday it is considering erecting barricades and posting No Trespassing signs to protect Broward County's first successful bald eagle's nest since the 1970s.

Crowds have gathered on Pines Boulevard near US 27 since last week to watch a mother and father eagle tend their two nestlings, which hatched a few weeks ago. Wildlife advocates, such as members of Broward Audubon, are concerned that the crowds could scare the eagles into abandoning the nest or frighten the nestlings into a fatal fall.

"We've even had people stop in the lane of traffic," Sgt. Bryan Davis said Tuesday.

He said the department's traffic supervisor is trying to determine what the options are for protecting the nest, located on forested, city-owned land near West Broward High School.

One bus stopped so passengers could have a look at the male and female eagles tending their two chicks. On Sunday, a man with professional-looking photography equipment walked directly under the nest, a flagrant display of bad judgment in a situation that threatens to get out of hand, said Ken Schneider, a retired physician from Miramar and a member of Broward Audubon.

"It's littered with water bottles" and fast food trash, he said. "We feel there's a need for the city to get involved in protecting the eagles." If the chicks are frightened, he said, they could suffer a fatal fall from the nest.

Ricardo Zambrano, wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said if people come too close to the nest they could cause the adult birds to abandon the chicks. People need to stay at least 330 feet away, he said.

"This is a big concern," Zambrano said.

Pembroke Pines City Manager Charles Dodge said he is aware of the concern and has asked the police chief about the city's options, such as whether it can post "no parking" signs, even though Pines Boulevard is a state road.

The nest is the first successful one in Broward since the 1970s, Zambrano said. Located on undeveloped, forested land, it was discovered by Kelly Smith, a seventh-grade science teacher who involved her students in studying the nest. Two chicks hatched last month, a cause of jubilation among wildlife enthusiasts.

"It's wonderful," said Schneider, who blogs about the nest at www.ƒorosyfinch.com. "It's a testament to the success of the Endangered Species Act."

The giant bird -- its wingspan can reach seven feet -- nearly disappeared in the 1960s, a victim of the pesticide DDT, which thins egg shells. Since DDT was banned in 1972, the species has made a gradual recovery. Although the eagle has been removed from the endangered species list, it remains protected from hunting or harassment under state and federal law.

The appearance of a thriving nest on the fringe of urbanized South Florida is further evidence of the species' recovery. Statewide, there are 1,280 nesting pairs, feeding on fish, large birds, mammals and carrion.

"This pair has adapted pretty well," Schneider said. "I think the eagles are going to be safe as long as people don't harass them."

David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4535.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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