MARCO ISLAND — Feather boas and froufrous fluttered through Thursday’s Nest Fest as 145 eagle enthusiasts flaunted their support for Marco Island’s avian treasure: The Tract K American bald eagles.
The fundraiser, sponsored by the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation, helped support the $30,000 needed annually to lease land for nesting eagles from Collier County’s Public School District. The foundation has a 5-year lease with a 5-year option to renew.
Tract K is located between Collier Bay and Tigertail Beach, two excellent fishing grounds for the eagles. Supporters say the eagle sanctuary is the last piece of green space on Marco Island.
“It may not be the last piece,” said Carl Way, founder and chairman of the foundation, “but it’s the last 11 1/2-acre piece. More importantly, this piece has been chosen by the eagles.”
In the foundation’s first year, Way and a few friends paid to maintain Tract K as a sanctuary. Since then, the foundation has reached out to the community for 5-year pledges to support its efforts.
“Our goal is long term,” Way said. “We don’t see an end to the sanctuary. We’d like to make the property a federal or state sanctuary protected for all time.”
With the eagles, the land supports 147 other species and draws more than 1,000 tourists a year wanting a “bird’s eye” view of the eagles – American’s national symbol – and other wildlife. The nest is registered and protected under federal, state, and local laws.
Way became a bird enthusiast when he was eight years old. He was involved in saving eagles’ nests in Virginia before coming to Marco Island.
“I came here and found a nest threatened and couldn’t sit back and not do something,” he said. The Tract K nest has produced two eaglets per year for the last two years. In both years, one eaglet died before maturity. It was disappointing to Way but not unpredictable.
“About 40 percent of all eagles don’t make it through their first flight, and another 25 percent don’t make it through their first year,” Way said. In 2011, one chick did not come back to the nest and later an eaglet was found drowned. This year, Way saw a chick fall to its death.
“At 12 weeks old, the eaglets are the same size as the adults but only have one third of the adult body mass,” Way explained. He believes the chick was not strong enough to fly in the 30 mph wind that ultimately took it to the ground.
Nesting season winds down in May and foundation members are already planning for a new season that starts in September. Nest Fest celebrated their good fortune in having a beautiful pair of eagles that returns to the island each year.
“We saw a 4-year-old fledgling come back to see if the nest was active this year,” Way said. Eagles reach sexual maturity when they are five years old. Even when the current nesting pair has passed on, Way suspects their offspring will look to the nest for breeding.
Festivities at Nest Fest included a sumptuous buffet by Denis Meurgue, art displays, a faux feather contest emceed by Dave Rice, Sr., a 50-50 raffle with tickets sold by Judy Sacher, musical entertainment by Tommy D and dancing.
For more information about the foundation and its protection of eagles or to donate visit www.marcoeaglesanctuaryfoundation.org.