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Nesting Bald Eagles in Florida
In distinguishing bald eagles from other large birds that might be nesting in the same area, remember that a bald eagle always soars with its wings held flat. Turkey vultures, which are of similar size, fly with a distinctive V-shape. From a distance, a bald eagle's head seems almost as prominent as its tail.
Black vultures, on the other hand, have a much smaller head. Ospreys, another fish hawk, are smaller and nest both in man-made objects as well as dead trees; bald eagles normally prefer only live trees.
The heaviest concentration of bald eagle nests anywhere in the Southeast--as many as 150--are located in the Prairie Lakes Unit of the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area southeast of Orlando. This former ranchland is situated between several lakes; the lakes are now ringed with eagle nests. Prairie Lakes is considered the best place to see eagles in Florida year-round. Wildlife hunts are also conducted here, so there are certain times of year this wildlife viewing isn't possible.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park just south of Gainesville has several unusually accessible nests at Lake Wauburg on the Micanopy side of Paynes Prairie. The place to stop is a small picnic area right off the major highway, Hwy. 441. The nests should be visible from this spot. In addition, nearby Orange Lake and Lake Lochloosa also have plenty of bald eagle activity during the nesting season.
Ocala National Forest offers rich bald eagle habitat. It borders the St. Johns River, contains hundreds of lakes and several fresh water springs within its 383,000 acres. Bald eagles may be seen almost anywhere but are most numerous around Lake George.
It takes a little bush-wacking to get close to some of the nests in remote swampy areas. They don't put their nests openly on the lake edge where they would be easy to see. The easiest way for spotting eagles is to take the ferry across Lake George by driving to the community of Salt Springs. It's quite common to see eagles from the ferry.
Withlacoochee State Forest near Brooksville has an easily accessible nest site on the Richloam tract near the fish hatchery. It's possible to get fairly close by car, then hike to the nest.
Look for bald eagles around the ponds near
Mud Lake Road at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge near Deland. All of the ponds have walkable dikes surrounding them.
Another good spot is Lake Kissimmee State Park near Lake Wales. It's not unusual to see as many as a dozen eagles in the same day. Several birds nest in the park. Traditionally, the most reliable and easily accessible nest is near the replica of an 1876 Cow Camp.
The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Titusville is another reliable area. Check at the visitor center on State Road 406 for the location of currently occupied nests.
Just north of Ft. Myers is Pine Island, reached by taking State Road 78 from U.S. 41. Pine Island's main road is County Road C-767 (Stringfield Road). Drive the 15-mile road in any direction and start looking for nests, which are usually quite plentiful.
The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center has a couple of hiking trails that should put you in view of the bald eagles that nest here from December to April.
In Everglades National Park, look for bald eagles at Paurotis Pond and at the very end of the park road at Flamingo.
In the Panhandle, the clear, rich waters of Wakulla Springs State Park are lined with several nests, and the birds can frequently be seen flying overhead. St. Marks NWR just south of Tallahassee usually has bald eagles nesting by November or December. Remote St. Vincent Island NWR, with eight miles of Gulf shoreline, is another good site, but a private boat is necessary to reach it.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Bald Eagle Nest Locator is designed to find the closest bald eagle nests wherever you might be in Florida.
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