Frequently Asked Questions

Eagles nested in the Garden from the fall of 2003 to the fall of 2012. Over the years we received many questions about the eagles living here. Below are some of the more frequently asked.

Why was the nest removed?
Please see this page for more detailed answers about this decision.

Questions about the eagles at NBG

If I come to the Garden, will I be able to see the eagles?
A visit to the Garden provides many opportunities to see a variety of birds including eagles. Now that they are not nesting in the Garden, it is hard to predict where they will be at any given time. Visitors may see the eagles sitting in trees near the old nesting sites or near the lake or even flying overhead. Just keep keep looking for them with an “eagle eye.”

Where in the Garden were the nests?
All three nests used between 2004 and 2012 were in loblolly pine trees located near Renaissance Court. To see the nest sites using Google Earth, use these coordinates:

Eagle nest in Renaissance Court2004-2007, 2009-10 nest:
Latitude 36 deg 54 min 13.01 sec north
Longitude 76 deg 12 min 4.97 sec west

2008 nest:
Latitude 36 deg 54 min 14.68 sec north
Longitude 76 deg 12 min 5.09 sec west

20011-12 nest:
Latitude 36 deg 54 min 13.96 sec north
Longitude 76 deg 12 min 6.17 sec west

How long did eagles nest in the Garden?
The eagles began building their first nest in the fall of 2003.  For a full history of the eagles at the Garden, see our Eagle Nest History page.

Where is the other eagle?
Eagles on and near the nestBoth eagles do not stay around the nest all the time.  An adult is usually around or on the nest only when there are eggs or young eaglets.  The other one may be off hunting or doing other “eagle things.”  They often sit on branches near the nest, which may be out of camera view.  On the right is an example of how the eagles may spend time.  If the camera is focused on the nest, you would not see the eagle on the right.

When not on the nest at night, where do the eagles stay?
When they are incubating eggs, one adult will spend the night on the eggs in the nest.  Generally an adult will also spend time on the nest when eaglets are very young.  At other times, the two adult eagles will sleep elsewhere.  When they are not in the nest tree, they are on a branch of a tree nearby. We know this because they have been seen there by night security, and because of the “white-wash” they have left on the ground under the branch.

How can you tell the male from the female?
Male and female eagleThe male is smaller than the female.  In this photo from a previous year (at right), the male is on the left and the female is on the right side of the picture.  For 2012, the female has one some dark feathers in her head and some dark coloration on the tip of her white tail.

How old are they?
In 2012, the female is approximately 5 years old and it is thought to be her first breeding season. The male is at least 14 years old, although he could be older.

Have you named the eagles?
When the eagles first built their nest here, we discussed the idea of naming them, but decided against doing so. Since they are wild birds, we do not want to encourage thinking of them as pets or to anthropomorphize them. Also, although all of our eaglets have survived to fledging, that’s not a guarantee every year. Giving them names could create more heartache for people. The disrupted nesting season in 2008 as well as the death of the adult female eagle last year are cases in point. That said, a lot of other viewers have given them names and have shared them with us.  In 2009, the middle eaglet was fitted with a satellite transmitter.  For purposes of the tracking project, she is identified as “Azalea.” In 2010, the oldest eaglet was fitted with a transmitter and is identified as “Camellia.”

How big were the nests?
First graders demonstrate how big an eagle nest really isEach nest was about 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide and 4 feet (1.2 meters) deep.  Enough to hold 4-5 first grade children as shown in the photo on the right.  This is an example created by local first graders.  Estimates for the weight range from 600 to 800 lbs.

How high were the nests?
All three nests were approximately 90 feet (27.4 meters) up in a loblolly pine tree.

What happened to the eaglet with the growth on its beak?
The eaglet with avian pox was removed from the nest in the spring of 2008.  It was taken to the Wildlife Center of Virginia to recover and it lives there still, unable to be released to the wild because the growth permanently disfigured the beak.  Learn more…

General questions about eagles

Eagle nest 80-90 feet highWhy are they called bald eagles?
The word bald is derived from the old English word “balde” which means white. The scientific name Haliaeetus leucocephalus comes from the Greek word haliaeetus which means “sea eagle”. Leucocephalus is derived from two Greek words, leukos meaning “white” and kephale meaning “head.”

Is the bald eagle an endangered species?
The bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List on June 27, 2007. It is now protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS) developed the National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines in May 2007 to assist landowners, land managers, and others as to when and under what circumstances the provisions of the Eagle Act may apply. The bald eagle is still listed as a threatened species in Virginia. In this state, responsibility for management of bald eagles is shared between the USF&WS and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

How big is an eagle?
Females have an average body length of 35-37 inches (88-94 cm) and an average wingspan of 79-90 inches (2-2.3 meters).
Males have an average body length of 30-34 inches (76-86 cm) and an average wingspan of 72-85 inches (1.8-2.2 meters).
They can weigh between 8 and 15 lbs (3.6 and 6.8 kg).

Do eagles only lay eggs in the spring?
In Virginia bald eagles lay their eggs from early January to late March. There are records of eagles laying eggs in late December and early April, but that is unusual.

When will the eggs hatch?
Eggs generally hatch in 35-39 days after laying.

Are there other bald eagle nests in the area?
During the 2007 season there were 9 active and 2 inactive nests in what we refer to as Lower Tidewater. During the 2009 season a survey conducted by CCB of bald eagles determined there were 19 active and 2 inactive nests.  The locations of these can be viewed at http://www.ccb-wm.org/virginiaeagles
Active nests location: 2 – Norfolk; 8 – Virginia Beach; 3 – Chesapeake; 6 – Suffolk

Do the eagles leave the area and if so where do they go?
The male lives in or around the Garden most of the year. The female is new this year, but we assume she will remain in the area as well. Many other eagles do migrate out of the area. Juvenile eagles wander widely during their first four years as we have been able to observe because of the satellite transmitter fitted on a 2009 NBG eaglet named “Azalea” for tracking purposes by CCB biologists. In 2010, another eaglet was fitted with a satellite transmitter as well and name “Camellia.”  Their travels can be followed at http://eagletrak.blogs.wm.edu.

How do we know how many bald eagles are nesting in Virginia?
In 1977 the Chesapeake Bay Bald Eagle Recovery Team was formed by the USF&WS to develop a recovery plan and monitor the population of the bald eagle. In Virginia, Dr. Mitchell Byrd at the College of William and Mary initiated a systematic survey. That survey continues today by the Center for Conservation Biology at W&M and measures breeding activity and productivity by a two-flight method and ground observations where flights are restricted. The first flight occurs in late February and March, and the second flight takes place in late April through May. In 2007 there were 560 occupied territories and 524 active nests that produced 737 bald eagle chicks.  In 2009 there were 640 territories, 610 active nests and 820 chicks.

Questions about the cam

What sort of cams did you use?
We used two outdoor IP Pan-tilt-zoom cameras and an IP bullet camera with infrared light. The IP cameras allowed biologists at remote sites to log in and move the cam to follow the action of the eagles. The pan-tilt-zoom features allowed camera operators to zoom in close on the nest or out wide to see the surrounding branches. It also allowed Garden staff to provide “garden tours” with the camera to show off the gardens surrounding the nest. The bullet camera with infrared light allowed us to view the nest at night. Wireless bridges transmitted the video from the cameras to a server in the Visitor Center where the video was encoded for online viewing.

Who operated the cam?
Eagle camera in the tree in relation to the nestOver the years four people operated the cam – a research associate with The Center for Conservation Biology at The College of William and Mary, a biologist from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and two staff members at Norfolk Botanical Garden. Between them, they were able to keep a pretty good eye on the NBG eagle activities.

Did you record all the activity?
We do not have enough memory on our servers to continuously record all the action. We recorded two to three days of video footage before older segments were dumped. We would save certain segments that are particularly interesting and cam operators snapped stills when they could. See some of the recordings.

When did the cam run?
The cam ran only during the nesting season. Usually we started streaming video in mid to late January and it continued until the eaglets left the nesting area which is generally late June or early July.

Are there other wildlife cams I can see?
Yes there are quite few now on the internet. A Google search should give you a good list of cameras. We do suggest the Eaglecrest Wildlife Camera site run by David McDonald, who generously donated funds for us to upgrade our equipment.