ALGIERS, LA (WVUE) - Family time comes early for bald eagles, which nest in the first months of the new year.
Louisiana now ranks as one of the population centers for bald eagles, with only Florida hosting more eagle nests annually. The number of nesting pairs in Louisiana now has surpassed 350.
Biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries recently surveyed 647 nests, which included recently-discovered nests and ones from past years. The survey found roughly 356 were active with eggs, young, and adults tending the nests.
The numbers of bald eagles declined dramatically from the early part of the 20th century through the 1970s. Shootings played a major role in the falling eagle count. Even after the eagles were given legal protection, environmentalists blamed the use of the pesticide DDT for decimating eagle populations.
The government eventually banned DDT, and eagle populations have come soaring back in the decades since then.
"They've been recovering tremendously over the last 40 years," said Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana. "It's amazing how well they can adapt to human situations."
Only four eagle pairs were known in Louisiana in 1960 and five in 1973.
There is at least anecdotal evidence the estimate may understate the current population, as more eagles nest near populated areas from Houma to New Orleans.
Motorists traveling on the I-10 over the Bonnet Carre Spillway are frequently wowed at the sight of bald eagles nesting in the LaBranche wetlands. Most eagles choose to build their nearly Volkswagen-sized nests along the Mississippi River Valley or in the Atchafalaya Basin.
Terrebonne Parish was the hotspot for eagle activity, with 69 active nests in a 2007 count by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had a significant impact on the bald eagle habitat and on historic nests, but had little effect on the number of nesting pairs, according to a census by the Center for Biodiversity.
Johnson calls the eagle recovery "one of the great success stories" of bird conservation.