ST. PETERSBURG — The national bird, the bald eagle, is often born in Florida — but sometimes it's a dangerous childhood.
Consider what happened earlier this week to a large bald eagle nest in Dunedin, a small Gulf Coast city: Part of the sofa-sized nest collapsed, sending two eight-week-old bald eaglets plummeting some 65 feet to the ground.
"The likely culprit is the wind," said Barbara Walker, Pinellas County's Audubon Society coordinator. "Combine that with very active young eagles. They can do a lot of jumping and hopping up and down on the nest."
The eaglets, which normally don't fly until they are 12 weeks old, were scooped up by volunteers and are both doing well. One is being treated for a fractured leg at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. The other is uninjured and resting at a bird sanctuary. A third baby bird is still high in the pine tree with two adult birds, and Walker said the nest looks solid enough to last until the bird learns to fly.
The baby birds are so young that they have not yet developed the regal, trademark white head; it takes about five years for the birds to mature and for their crowns to turn from brown to white.
Florida has one of the densest concentrations of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Florida is dotted with nests from Pensacola to Miami, and this time of the year is critical for the birds because they are learning to fly.
"They're kind of helpless right now," said Ulgonda Kirkpatrick, eagle plan coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "If they just had a couple more weeks, they would be able to fly on their own."
If the baby birds are not rescued from the ground, they are vulnerable to predators such as coyotes, bobcats and even domestic dogs and cats. A network of volunteers throughout the state closely monitor most of the nests.
Between 3,500 and 5,300 eagles were spotted in Florida during a statewide count in 2009, including several hundred baby birds.
There are two species of bald eagles in the U.S.: One lives in the Northwest, the other in the South. It is the only species of eagle that is native to the U.S. Once an endangered species, the bird was removed from the list by federal officials in 2007.
On The Web: http://myfwc.com/eagle/eaglenests/nestlocator.aspx to locate a bald eagle nest in Florida.