Effects of habitat alteration and human disturbance on nesting bald eagle in South Carolina
Whitney, Suzanne Elizabeth
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Since European colonization of North America, bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) populations had been degraded by a variety of anthropogenic factors that reduced their populations to a fraction of historic numbers. Protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the banning of DDT has helped bald eagles make a strong comeback. The bald eagle was delisted under the ESA in June of 2007, but still receives protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These regulations are less stringent than the ESA, specifically in regards to habitat protection. This study documents some of the effects human disturbance and habitat alteration have on bald eagle nesting success in South Carolina. Historical nesting data collected over 31 nesting seasons was compared to levels of development documented in nesting sites. Factors examined included the distance from a nest site to the nearest road or structure and the intensity, proximity, and duration of various human disturbances to the nest. This included disturbance from housing, transportation, construction and recreation. Development near nest sites was not found to have a significant impact on mean chick productivity or the percentage of nests that successfully reproduced. Additionally, no specific type of disturbance or development was found to be a good predictor of nesting success using regression models.