As a cartographer at Eglin Air Force Base and the conservation chairman of the Choctawhatchee Audubon Society, Malcolm Swan knows the locations of many bald eagle nests.
For example, he knows of a nest in the Kelly Plantation subdivision in Destin and another by the Walmart in Sandestin. And he’s aware of the better-known nest by the U.S. Coast Guard station on Okaloosa Island just west of the Marler Bridge.
“I live and work in areas where they are often seen,” Swan said recently. “I probably see an eagle once a week. It kind of takes some experience to spot them. There are other big birds, like brown pelicans, vultures and osprey flying around. You get to know how to ID them from about a quarter of a mile away.”
He noted that the eagles’ nesting season is drawing to a close. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, it runs from October through May 15, so there’s still a little time to spot our nation’s symbolic bird, and maybe even an eaglet, at a nest.
“I was just at a refuge south of Tallahassee,” Swan said. “There was one juvenile still on the nest and one sitting outside of it.”
During the 2016 nesting season, the FWC surveyed known eagle nesting sites across Florida. According to that survey, there are 10 eagle nests near Choctawhatchee Bay.
They include the nest by the Coast Guard station, one at the mouth of Rocky Creek by Niceville, several near Freeport and one near Poquito Bayou north of Shalimar.
The survey also noted a nest by the mouth of the East Bay River north of Navarre and two nests near Holt.
Some of the nests might currently be inactive.
Florida has one of the densest concentrations of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states, with an estimated 1,500 nesting pairs, according to the FWC.
The overall population of bald eagles began increasing with the ban of the DDT pesticide in 1972, and the bird was removed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list in 2007.
“It’s a majestic-looking bird that inspires a lot of pride,” Swan said.
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, however, apparently didn’t care much for the bald eagle.
In a letter to his daughter in 1784, Franklin wrote that he wished it hadn’t been chosen as the nation’s representative, according to the history.com website.
The bald eagle “does not get his living honestly” because it steals food from the fishing hawk and is “too lazy to fish for himself,” Franklin wrote. He praised the turkey for being “a much more respectable bird” and “a bird of courage.”