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Protecting bald eagles

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2008 2:39 PM by Sam Singal

By Stephanie Himango, NBC News producer

Watch the segment

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 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.

                       Image: man and hawk

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.

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This is good to see.
My entire family has watched daily as these eaglets have hatched and grown.  I live in Micco, Fl about an hour north of them.  My sisters, one in NJ and one here in FL watch daily to see what they are up to and watch their antics.  We will be heartbroken when they finally leave the nest, and will pray for their safe journey north and their return to FL.  Mr. Ginn & the Audubon Society deserve our thanks for this wonderful, educational experience.  What an extreme pleasure to witness such an event.
Amazing!  The staff at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey do an amazing job rehabilitating eagles and other raptors. I'm glad Bogey and Birdie are getting ready to fly, thanks to Lynda and her team. Thank you, Bobby Ginn.
I have a small farm in NJ. About two years ago a bald eagle landed in a tree next to my drive and watched as my daughter's,visiting, small dog played in the yard. Probably had dinner in mind. What a beautiful sight. I never saw it again until this past December when it landed in the same tree. I have seen it flying nearby a few times since. Hopefully, it took up residence nearby.

PS Thank Mr Ginn for me. I can't do as much as he has but I have converted  four acres of my land to a wikldlife sanctuary planting the native summer grasses and plants that will support various species.

What a wonderful story!   I echo what others have said.  Thank you Mr. Ginn!   And thank those involved with the live cam.  It's so much fun to watch them grow up!
Thanks for looking out for our natural surroundings and friends, Mr. Ginn. The world is a bit better a place for your actions.
I'm so happy to see someone like this is out there.  As a member of the Audubon Society and a fellow bird lover, my heart is so full and happy because of Mr. Ginn.  Thank you Mr. Ginn for doing such an honorable thing.  Thank you NBC for sharing this wonderful story.  
God Bless Bobby Ginn!!!
The best story I've heard in a long time.  We need more heroes like Mr. Gin, who aren't afraid to put nature and others' needs ahead of profits.  Stories such as this make me so happy and realize there is still good in the world.  We need to hear more Mr. Gins in the world!
It is so refreshing to see a big time developer with a heart and not thinking of his bottom line.  Bravo to Mr Ginn!!  Thank you for thinking of nature and not yourself!  I just wish we could see more people like you thinking on the same level in this country. May God Bless you!
I commend Bobby Ginn for giving up very valuable land here in Port St Lucie for the preservation of  wildlife here and nature. It's fantastic to see this live daily on the web. Thank you Bobby Ginn, thank you for caring.
    I’m writing this in response to your feel-good story about the developer in south Florida who set aside acreage in his newest development rather than disturb the nesting site of an American bald eagle pair. It is, in fact, against the law in this country to disturb such a site, and, although punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year imprisonment, the usual punishment for such an offence is to fine the responsible party the estimated amount they would have made by doing so.
    In effect, you’ve provided a free public service announcement for a developer who’s responsible for destroying tens of thousands of acres of natural habitat, and who would have forfeited any profits he would have gained had he developed the site in the first place!

This is such an uplifting piece of news to get. Imagine,  a person doing the right thing despite a loss of $. Mr Ginn actually has the foresight to see the big picture and knows that the "profit" for his action cannot even be meassured in $
Thank you
Thank you for the tireless efforts of the Miami Science Museum, Institute of Wildlife Sciences and Audubon Society to save our wildlife. Thank you Mr. Ginn for giving them the chance.  
Bobby Ginn, your the best and others should follow suit. My sister lives in Port St Lucie and we both have followed the daily lives of these beautiful Eagles. Kudos Bobby!
It may be against the law to disturb eagle nesting sites, but Im sure it goes on all the time, without anyone being caught and punished.  I think Mr. Ginn probably could have knocked that nest down without anyone being the wiser. However, he did not.  He chose to do the right thing.  No one likes to see development of beautiful, natural land, but its going to happen as long as there are people to buy it. Kudos to Mr. Ginn for being willing to preserve some of it.        
Via webcam, I've watched the same pair of bald eagles for the past three years nest, lay eggs, and care for their eaglets at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV .  Until you've seen it up close, you can't imagine how moving it is to see the cooperation and devoted and gentle care that these huge birds display.  They set an example for many humans!  Thanks to Mr. Ginn for recognizing the value of this natural wonder!

I SO wish that the comments of  Mike Miahlek about the extent of protection of the eagle through regulations were accurate.

The reality is that developers are not nearly as restricted by law as he suggests.  YES, it is illegal to destroy a nest, and YES, it is illegal to harass, or otherwise interfere with a nest once established an active...BUT the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service negotiates FAR LESS generous setbacks than what Mr. Ginn voluntarily did at his "Tosoro" development in Port St. Lucie.   Ginn set aside over 120 acres...much more considering that his set-aside preserve surrounds a large lake, for the purpose of eagle preservation. Eagles will nest there for many years to come.

Regulation is important.

But even MORE important is the fact that some people such as Bobby Ginn have developed an ethic under which the protection of the Eagle and preservation of its habitat becomes a company goal and policy...not simply something required by government regulations.

Charles Lee
Audubon of Florida
It's great to see a developer like Mr. Ginn think of more than his profits. I wish more developers would take the time to set aside undeveloped acreage in each subdivision they build. Thanks to everyone involved for showing us how these beautiful birds take care of there young. We wish godspeed to Birdie and Bogey when they take there first flight.


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