JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Feb. 26, 2010) -- Federal, state and non-governmental agencies worked together to successfully remove two six-week old bald eaglets Thursday from a nest near two Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation Project sites in Palm Beach County.

Relocating the eaglets allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain construction momentum and complete priority work in the southeast section of the dike prior to hurricane season, officials said.

Corps' contractors are filling a quarry at one site and installing a partial cutoff wall from the dike crest to about 70 feet below at the second site. Both projects are critical to stopping and preventing excess seepage and erosion that can lead to dike failure.

Two eaglets averaging six pounds were safely removed from a nest located four miles south of Pahokee. Working with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials, the Corps contracted the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey to conduct the relocation and care for the eaglets until a suitable foster nest is found.

Audubon specialists routinely foster eagles and other orphaned birds of prey into foster nests with great success. Two hundred eagle nests are now in the organization's EagleWatch program.

"It was a bitter-sweet event, but we're extremely pleased the eaglets were safely removed and are in Audubon's care. At this point in our rehabilitation process, continuing to make progress on this high-priority stretch requires work in the vicinity of the nest," said Col. Al Pantano, the Corps' Jacksonville District commander. The Corps is rehabilitating the dike's most vulnerable section of the dike - the 22-mile southeast stretch between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade.

Pantano said the Corps worked with FWS experts to develop a good plan, including establishing a 660-foot buffer zone around the nest several months ago to help protect the birds and the tree. "After many discussions, relocating the eaglets was the best compromise to save the eaglets and continue construction that's critical to the safety of south Florida residents. As we take actions to reduce risk to public safety, we recognize that other interests may be affected. We try very hard to reduce these affects," Pantano said.

The Corps' goal is to complete the quarry fill prior to hurricane season, and delaying work until the eaglets fledged would have required work at both sites stop for two months. The cost of putting two contractors on standby for two months equates to about $2.5 million. The Corps always strives to use public funds as responsibly and efficiently as possible, officials said.

The rehabilitation team was aware of the nest's presence and the potential risk associated with the eagles using the nest during construction. According to FWS specialists, eagle-breeding season runs from October through May - so there isn't a "good" time to perform long-term work that must be done.

"This solution is considered the best alternative under the circumstances for the eaglets' safety, as well as for human health and safety concerns. In order to get the job done before the 2010 hurricane season starts, the Corps needs to continue vital work on the Herbert Hoover Dike project," said Paul Souza, the FWS's South Florida field supervisor.

"There are always risks associated with removing eaglets from the nests and fostering them into adoptive nests," Souza said. "However, the service has confidence in and considers Audubon to be the best-qualified eagle rehabilitators in this situation to make the most appropriate decisions in the best interest of the survival of these eaglets."

The Corps began working with its construction contractors in early October to gather information for an FWS eagle disturbance permit, should the need for one arise. In early December 2009, the eagles laid two eggs. The Corps provided a permit application to the FWS later that month. After two eaglets hatched in mid-January, the Corps and FWS began to develop a plan to protect both the eaglets. Though eagles are no longer covered by the Endangered Species Act, they remain protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the state bald eagle rule.

The Corps will continue monitoring the nest and adult pair until all dike construction in the area is finished, officials said. They said contractors on the work site will also take measures to protect the nest tree for future nesting activities. Project engineers anticipate the contractors will complete construction in the area prior to another nesting.

For more information and photos of the eaglets' removal activity, please go to the Jacksonville District website at