In 2014, a pair of mated Bald Eagles chose the most idyllic of nest sites within the United States’ National Capital, Washington, DC, nestled high in a Tulip Poplar Tree amongst The Azalea Collection at the United States National Arboretum, which is operated by the United States Department of Agriculture. This was the first time Bald Eagles have nested in this location since 1947. This pair raised one eaglet successfully in 2015 and two in 2016.
We want to thank AEF Volunteers and Staff (special thanks to Patty Fernandez & Crystal Slusher), Sue Greeley with the USNA, Dan Rauch with the DOEE, and Craig Koppie with the USFWS, for providing information and photos to help create this “About This Pair” section. Many questions are answered, and explanations given, in our FAQs (PDF file).
Chronology of These Eagles’ Story
After several months away from their nesting territory, Mr. President returned to the nest tree on Sept. 13 and was followed by The First Lady on Oct. 11 Both eagles tirelessly carried out nest building activities (“nestorations”) and added hundreds of sticks and other soft materials to the interior of the nest.
The cams went live to the public for the 2016-2017 Nesting Season on New Year’s Eve.
Once again, the parent eagles were diligent in caring for their offspring, DC4 (‘Honor’) & DC5 (‘Glory’). Both eaglets grew strong and healthy, as hundreds of thousands watched special moments in the nest. Glory fledged first on June 19, followed by Honor, who fledged June 22.
2015 – 2016 Season
In 2016, our Washington, DC inaugural Eagle Cam took the world by storm, generating over 63 million views from over 100 countries during a five-month period. Featuring Bald Eagles ‘Mr. President’ and ‘The First Lady,’ this season was an unqualified success. The doting parents performed their duties flawlessly, while DC2 (‘Freedom’) & DC3 (‘Liberty,’) their offspring, grew to be strong, healthy, and beautiful juvenile Bald Eagles, successfully fledging.
We would like to thank all the DC cam partners: U.S. National Arboretum, Agricultural Research Service, Alfred State, Department of Energy & Environment, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Piksel.
2014 – 2015 Season
The story began in the spring when a lone male Bald Eagle started roosting on Kingman Island; it was observed that this male would survey the Anacostia River 4 system on a daily basis and return to Kingman Island every sunset. During the fall Bald Eagles began migrating through the area and it wasn’t long until the male seemed to have found a mate.
In October 2014, the pair was observed flying together and conducting pair bonding flights, according to Arboretum staff these flights went on for a few weeks during September and October. It is also noted that the new pair was defending their future nesting area against migrating eagles.
In November 2014 an ECC (Earth Conservation Corps) member observed one of the Eagles carrying sticks, which indicates nesting building. The pair was not seen in December.
In January 2015, Arboretum staff noticed nest building activities taking place. The staff watched the pair making trips back and forth from the nest site. At the end of January it was noted that one bald eagle remained at the nesting site at all times, which was a clear indication that this pair was incubating. It is unknown how many eggs were laid that first year or when they were laid but according to the 35 day incubation time frame there may have been Eaglets as early as Saturday, March 7th, depending on when incubation began.
On March 2, Craig Koppie of the USFWS by taking an aerial shot of the nest from a helicopter and confirmed that the female was brooding on the nest.
On April 9, wildlife biologist Dan Rauch confirmed the presence of at least one chick from ground photos. The young Eaglet, called DC1, fledged the nest in June.
Previous DC Nesting Seasons
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Q & A
Q. How many Eagles have nested in the Arboretum in the past?
A. Although we can’t be certain how many Eagles have nested in this specific geographic location we do know that this is the first pair of eagles to nest in the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC in almost 70 years (the last known pair was in 1947; The Arboretum was founded in 1927)
Q. Why did these Eagles choose the National Arboretum?
A.The Arboretum has a number of mature trees that are large enough to support an eagle’s nest. Even though this nest is in an urban area, the Arboretum provides quality wildlife habitat and enough open space to dampen the commotion and noise from the city. Also, the Arboretum’s eastern boundary is the Anacostia River, which is a significant food source.
Q. What kind of food does the Anacostia River provide to these Eagles?
A. There are about 50 species of fish in the Anacostia, some are minnows, alewives and other small fish but there are some like shad, bass, herring, warmouth, gar and American eel that they could catch. We know for sure they are eating catfish, most likely a bullhead type and perch (we saw that when USFWS did their fly over last season, it was sitting on the edge of the nest). It was noted that the eagles may have been feeding on either a female ruddy duck or coot, there was also some herring or ring-billed gull primary feathers in the nest. More information.
Q. What other types of wildlife can be seen along the Anacostia River?
A. The Anacostia River supports 188 species of birds and nearly 50 species of fish. Some of the animals you can see in and along the river include: bald eagles, beavers, white perch, ospreys, striped bass, cormorants, crayfish, herons, turtles, egrets, otters, herring, red fox, shad, kingfishers, and bullhead catfish.
Q. How big is their nest?
A. The current nest is approximately five feet wide by six feet deep. The tree selected by this pair is large enough to support a nest, is within sight distance of the river, and is also located in one of the few parts of the District with limited human disturbance.
Q. What kind of tree are they nesting in?
A. The nesting tree is a tulip poplar tree located on the south side of Mount Hamilton and has a view of the river as well as downtown DC.
Q. Where is the nest and is it safe from human disturbance?
A. Their tree is located on the western edge of the Arboretum’s famed Glenn Dale azalea collection, the destination of springtime visitors to the Arboretum since 1949. The azaleas bloom in late April and early May. Staff from USNA engaged in early consultation with Craig Koppie, US Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office to avoid disturbance and minimize potential impacts to the new Eagle pair. The presence of the Bald Eagle nest so close to Azalea Drive along the south side of Mount Hamilton means the road is closed off to vehicles. A smaller segment of Azalea Drive will be closed to pedestrians because it is within the buffer zone (roughly 660 feet in diameter surrounding the nest site). Visitors can still explore most of the Azalea Collections from the east side trailheads, however, visitors are not allowed to see the nest itself.
Q. How can you tell them apart?
A. The female, aside from being larger, appears to have more of the lighter edging on her feathers, particularly on the back, between the wings.