Professors help bald eagles’ recovery

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April 25, 2008

2:10 AM

Two College biology professors have been recognized for their work on bird conservation, including their research on bald eagles.

Biology Professor Bryan Watts M.A. ’86, director of the College’s Center for Conservation Biology, along with his colleague, retired Chancellor Professor of Biology Mitchell Byrd, have been recognized with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Recovery Champion 2007 award.

The National Recovery Champion award, which honored 16 individuals in its 2007 selection, celebrates accomplishments and contributions of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services employees in promoting threatened and endangered domestic species.

Watts and Byrd founded the Center for Conservation Biology in 1991. They were recognized for their dedication to the recovery of the bald eagle.

According to Watts, the College has been committed to eagle conservation since the 1960s, and, currently, the Center is supporting 10 ongoing projects.

“The Center is a research group within the College that primarily works with birds, and William and Mary has had long history of dedicated effort [toward eagle research],” Watts said.

The center’s research has been used for purposes including analyzing construction or development plans that could impact bird habitat, as well as investigating the bird habitats neighboring the Chesapeake Bay and developing refuges to protect the animals.

“Sometimes we work with the military or local government; we design a research project for them and act as advisors on how to manage eagles,” Watts said. “The Center hosts many multifaceted programs.”

Recently, U.S. Navy officials discovered that bald eagles were dying off at the Indian Head Naval Support Facility, totaling 12 deaths in a span of four years. A team of Navy officials and researchers from the center collaborated to incorporate structural adjustments to the facility that will prevent deaths. Researchers from the College are now conducting studies on eagles to make sure a healthy environment is maintained.

Watts, in an April 20 interview with The Washington Post (“Stepping Up Eagle Protection”) said the deaths at Indian Head are representative of the larger problem of coexistence with birds and humans.

“Eagles need waterfront property. [Humans] want waterfront property,” Watts said to the Post. “The long-term hope here is that we can coexist in the bay.”

Officials commented on the competency of Byrd and Watts and the research done at the center.

“Doctors Byrd and Watts exemplify leadership in research, advocacy, partnerships and habitat protection directly contributing to the recovery of the bald eagle, particularly in the unique and vital Chesapeake Bay region,” Marvin E. Moriarty, Northeast Region director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement.

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