Near the south shore of your namesake — Lake Pontchartrain — south of I-10 and west of I-310, there appears to be a monumental bird's nest crowning an ancient cypress tree. Is it an eagle's nest?
It is indeed an eagle's nest — a bald eagle's nest. The word "bald" in American bald eagle comes from the old-fashioned word, "piebald," which means marked with white. The scientific name, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, translates to "white-headed sea eagle." The marshes are attractive to eagles because there are abundant food sources and large cypress trees to use as nesting sites. Eagles typically build their nests in large pine or cypress trees near a large body of water.
Eagles, which mate for life, tend to nest in the same area repeatedly and can live for more than 30 years in the wild. They build a nest in a fork of stout branches close to the top of a tree. The birds use sticks to make the nests, which can be very large and weigh several hundred pounds. The female eagle lays one to three eggs, with two being the most common. The eagles incubate the eggs for 35 days, during which time the female rarely leaves the nest.
You can find bald eagles in every state except Hawaii, and they are prevalent in Florida, Wisconsin, Washington, Minnesota, Oregon and Michigan. The largest concentration by far, however, is in Alaska.
One June 20, 1782, the bald eagle was chosen as the emblem of the United States — against the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin, who wanted the North American wild turkey. Our forefathers chose the eagle because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks — and because they believed it existed only on this continent.
Experts estimate between 100,000 and 500,000 bald eagles were nesting in America when lawmakers adopted the eagle as a national symbol, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, deforestation, hunting and the use of the insecticide DDT made their numbers dwindle. By 1963, the population of breeding pairs in the lower 48 states had dropped to a record low of 417.
Louisiana's abundance of coastal refuges are essential to eagles' feeding and reproduction cycle, but at one time the state had only four breeding pairs. In 1990, Louisiana was home to 50 breeding pairs of bald eagles. That number grew to 284 by 2006 and now numbers 300, many of them residing in the swamps and marshes of St. Tammany and St. Charles parishes.
In Louisiana, eagles nest in the winter when pairs of birds ready a nest and lay eggs. Most of the eggs have been laid by November and will hatch at the end of the year. By May, most eagles have left their nests and soon thereafter leave the state. Experts believe eagles spend their summers in the northern states.
The U.S. Interior Department declared the American bald eagle was endangered in 1967, but took it off that list in 2007. Eagles are still protected by federal and state laws.