There’s nothing quite like the sight of a bald eagle.
For decades, the majestic bird, which has served as the United States’ national symbol since 1782, was included on the endangered species list. Thanks to protections put in place in the 1970s, the birds have made an amazing comeback, with the number of nesting pairs in the lower 48 states growing from around 450 in the 1960s to nearly 10,000 pairs today.
According to the website baldeagle.com, the greatest concentration of these nesting sites are in Louisiana and Florida — including Northwest Florida, which has seen a resurgence of bald eagle sightings.
“I’ve been doing our Christmas bird count for 25 years,” said Alan Knothe, the vice president of the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society and the coordinator of the group’s annual bird count. “In the early years, we were lucky if anyone found one eagle. During the last survey, we found 29, so the numbers are definitely increasing.”
According to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are 23 documented bald eagle nesting sites in Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties, although it’s not certain how many of those are active. While most of the sites are clustered near local bays and bayous, there are a few in the northern ends of all three counties.
Knothe said the eagles’ nesting season usually runs from November to March or April. Mike Spaits, the environmental spokesman for Eglin Air Force Base, said base environmental officials are currently monitoring four active bald eagle nests.
“That equates to four breeding pairs, so the total number will fluctuate once their offspring go off and find their own mates,” Spaits said. “We think that’s indicative of the growth of population numbers throughout the region.”
While bald eagle sightings are not as rare as they once were around here, Knothe said that getting a glimpse of one of the birds still generates a thrill.
“I do get excited,” Knothe confessed. “They’re such magnificent birds, and they are our national symbol, after all.”