By Stephanie Himango, NBC News p
They are an unlikely pair.
Property developer Bobby Ginn and Audubon of Florida created a partnership to protect the habitat of a family of bald eagles. Now on the success of this union, environmentalists hope this kind of cooperation will become the norm - a new balance between development and conservation.
When Bobby Ginn realized his 1,400-acre Tesoro deluxe development in Port Saint Lucie was already home to two bald eagles, he halted construction and consulted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Audubon of Florida. Even though Ginn's vocation is property development, that did not preclude him from being a friend of nature -- perhaps not surprising since his childhood years were spent in rural South Carolina.
Preserving the eagles' habitat meant significantly modifying the development plan. "He literally designed the development around the moving eagles. He changed the location of the clubhouse, the location of golf courses, the location of a major element of what was going to be his waterfront development...to create a preserve for these birds," said Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida.
In total, Ginn set aside 120 acres of land to be preserved, at a cost of about $40 million dollars in potential profits. He said it was a tough decision, but that it was the right thing to do. "We spend millions of dollars on golf courses and tennis courts and marinas and other things," he said. "I mean why wouldn't you spend some of that money to create habitat that we both can enjoy - both man and wildlife."
As a result, plans for multi-million-dollar homes were scrapped in favor of some very special residents that live atop a dead tree in a home made of twigs and brush.
Since then, Audubon of Florida and Bobby Ginn installed a solar-powered live web-camera in the tree opposite the nest -- offering an all-day birds-eye view of the eagle family. More recently, viewers have flocked to the site to glimpse the fuzzy heads of two eaglets hatched in January. EagleWatch coordinator Lynda White said the site has become a great educational tool. "We have kids in almost every state watching these birds." In fact, it was children who named the eaglets: Birdie is the girl, and Bogey is the boy.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, caring citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead
The welfare of the eagles is of primary concern to all involved, as we witnessed in early March when NBC News visited the nest site. Biologist Brian Mealey of the Institute of Wildlife Sciences and a team from the Miami Science Museum and Florida Atlantic University took the two eaglets down from the nest to take measurements and attach bands. They also attached a light-weight backpack-like tracking device to the larger of the two eaglets, Birdie, the female. The device weighs about 50 grams - roughly a small package of M & Ms - and it will fall off in about four years. Scientists do not expect her to suffer any negative effects by wearing the device, nor will it impact her ability to fly. Birdie and Bogey were gently placed back in their nest with their new scientific jewelry, as their parents circled overhead.
Biologist Brian Mealey holds one young eagle after bringing it down from the nest to conduct measurements and to attach bands. Photo by NBC News' Stephanie Himango
The timing of the scientists' visit was carefully planned, because the tracking device needed to be attached before first flight. About 50 days old, the eaglets already appeared nearly as large as their parents, and within 3-5 weeks they will try to fly for the first time. Once they do, they will quickly begin their northern migrations - most likely traveling alone. According to Mealey, there is a high mortality rate among chicks. A lot of caring eyes will be watching as Birdie and Bogey transition from exercising their wings in the nest, to branching out and taking flight. You can track Birdie's migration here.
No longer endangered
The bald eagle was removed from the federal endangered species list last year. In the lower 48 states, there are now an estimated 9,789 nesting pairs. That is a dramatic comeback story when contrasted with the same figure from 1963, when there were 417 nesting pairs.
Excluding Alaska, where the bald eagle population has long thrived, Minnesota is currently the state with the highest population of nesting pairs, with 1,312; followed by Florida with 1,133; and Wisconsin, with 1,065.