Public Gardens, What's Happening

Bald eagles, not azaleas, are the stars at Arboretum

eagle6The hottest outdoor news in Washington, D.C. this month isn’t the flowering of cherry trees at the Tidal Basin. This year it’s the birth of two Bald Eagles at the National Arboretum, thanks to 24/7 coverage of the event by the live, hopelessly addicting Eaglecam installed by the American Eagle Foundation.

The eagle parents, named Mr. President and First Lady, are the first Bald Eagle pair to nest at the 446-acre site since 1947, so it would have been a big deal even without the video coverage but it’s the eaglecam that’s mesmerized even non-birders and gotten them cameos on national news shows.

Below, the first eaglet hatched on March 18. His or her sibling appeared two days later.

YouTube Preview Image

And here they are shedding shells and being fed bits of fish! YouTube Preview Image

Their fish dinner is no surprise, given the nest’s proximity to the Anacostia River, home to at least 50 species of fish.


If there’s a down side to all this, it’s the location the eagles chose to start their family – in a tulip poplar growing among the Arboretum’s famous azalea collection,  So this year, visitors won’t be able to get close enough to actually see them. According to, parts of Azalea Drive had to be closed to cars and even pedestrians because they’re within the buffer zone established by federal law – roughly 660 feet in diameter surrounding the nest site.


I have lots of questions about all this – like what’s the impact on the Arboretum of all this publicity and a closed-off Azalea Drive at bloom time? And could a resurgence of eagles in coming years mean more parts of the Arboretum closed to the public? I’m awaiting answers from the Arboretum staff and will update this post if I get them.

Posted by on March 25, 2016 at 9:24 am, in the category Public Gardens, What's Happening.
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4 responses to “Bald eagles, not azaleas, are the stars at Arboretum”

  1. Open it up! Maybe limit visitors to on-foot only and cap the number of people coming through per hour, but this is crazy to entirely shut off a whole area at peak bloom of one of the most popular arboretum features.
    I don’t think they care one bit at all about human presence. The eagles chose a busy spot to nest in and other pairs are being seen all over the country nesting in intensely urban areas. That intruding camera on the other-hand, with its almost constant movement and noises, must be a real PITA for these birds.

  2. Tom says:

    Please keep us updated about the road. I couldn’t take my mom last year to see the azaleas and it sounds like this year isn’t going to work either. Thanks!

  3. Barbara says:

    The nest site is in a tulip poplar, not popular. Doggone spell check!
    Greatly appreciate your thoughtful comments on the ‘do not cross’ barrier, and the arboretum itself. Thank you!

  4. Thomas Christopher says:

    Wildlife is especially thrilling in an urban setting — I’m sure this is interesting all sorts of people in the Arboretum who never knew about it previously.