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Mar 12, 2012 9:54 AM by AP

Bald eagles discovered nesting in Baton Rouge park

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - BREC's Farr Park Equestrian Center and RV Campground along River Road has some relatively new residents: two bald eagles that may be parents.

The nest and the birds were discovered about three weeks ago when a horseback riding instructor saw the nest and informed others with East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission system about the find.

"It's in one of the pastures that's in Farr Park," said Greg Grandy, BREC's conservation director.

The nest is in a location that is not open to the public, but it can be seen from a pavilion near the recreational vehicle park. However, that view is getting obscured by other trees. The best view, he said, is from the levee because there is a corridor between the levee and the trees.

"We had to modify how we were using the site once we found it," Grandy said of the nest.

Because the nest is located over one of the riding trails, the use of the trail has been modified to avoid disturbing the birds if there is an egg in the nest, he said. Other activities such as tree trimming and grounds maintenance have also been altered to give the birds a buffer.

"We haven't seen any young," Grandy said, but other birdwatchers have reported that the two adults have been seen bringing fish to the nest. The restrictions to create a buffer around the nest will remain in place until someone sees young birds in the nest, Grandy said.

If no young birds are seen by the end of May, the restrictions will be lifted, he said.

After decades of declining numbers in the early part of the 20th Century, the bald eagle first got protection from the federal government in 1940 with what became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, according to information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. Later the Migratory Bird Treaty Act gave the bald eagle more federal protection.

However, populations declined in the years after World War II because of the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which accumulates in the birds and makes egg shells too fragile to survive.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the general use of DDT in 1972, and in 1973 the bald eagle was one of the first species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The actions worked and the bald eagle went from a low of 417 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states to a high of 9,789 pairs by the time the bird was removed from the Endangered Species Act list in 2007, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It's only within the last couple years we've had these sightings in areas north of Morgan City," said Jane Patterson, president of the Baton Rouge Audubon Society. "What we're seeing represents the recovery, which is wonderful."

The bald eagle is still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits the harming or taking of any bald eagle, including feathers, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Taking a bird, including its nest, eggs or feathers is a felony and involves large penalties and possible jail time.

Grandy said park officials struggled about whether they should tell the public about the nest given that there have been protected birds shot in other parts of the state.

However, people have seen the birds around the LSU lakes, and it was just a matter of time before the nest was spotted. The vast majority of people will handle the news responsibly, he said.

"The two types of birds the public go crazy for are hummingbirds and eagles," Patterson said.

Patterson said although the age of the birds isn't know, since the nest was just discovered about a month ago, it's possible that this is a young mated pair that's just getting started, although they're a little late. Based on other eagles in the state, the bald eagle usually starts doing work on the nest in October and November, Patterson said.

At an eagle's nest near Ramah, the chick that was hatched is as big as the adults right now, she said.

People can park in the trailhead parking lot at Farr Park and walk up the levee to see the nest or they can ride the bicycle trail along the levee to Farr Park, according to a BREC news release.

"You can't mistake it for anything else," Grandy said about seeing the bald eagles. "It literally takes your breath away."

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