Eagle’s nest to be protected amidst College of Medicine construction
Tucked among the trees on the plot of land where the University’s College of Medicine will be built, a bald eagle’s nest serves as the home for several of the national birds. There are no current plans to relocate these animals before breaking ground on the construction of the medical school building this spring.
The bald eagle’s protection under federal law prohibits the taking, possession and commerce of the birds, except under specific conditions, offering University Facilities and Construction Management a distinct challenge in the completion of the medical school building project.
“UH will be establishing a 330-foot perimeter around the nest to act as a buffer,” said David Oliver, associate vice president of University Facilities and Construction Management. “We will limit access and maintain the tree canopy to act as a natural screen for the eagles. The only work within the buffer is installation of a utility duct bank along Spur 5, which will be performed outside of nesting season.”
Despite having to make accommodations for the protection of the birds, it has not had an impact on the construction schedule and the medical school building is still projected to be completed by summer 2022, Oliver said.
Discovery and Protection
Although it is unknown when the nest itself was discovered, its presence was brought to the University’s attention by the Houston Audubon Society following the announcement of the College of Medicine construction project in August 2019.
The society, which focuses on protecting the environment to benefit birds and people, had been monitoring the nest for an extended period of time when the announcement was made.
The University consulted with an environmental consultant with bald eagle experience for recommendations about how to protect the birds during the construction process.
“The University sought guidance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the agency does not recommend removal for the planned medical school building,” Oliver said. “UH will protect the site and minimize disruptions to the immediate vicinity of the eagle nest.”
Human activity has a variety of potential impacts on nesting bald eagles, particularly during mating seasons, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. These effects can range from the inadequate construction of their nests to the abandonment of the nest altogether, which can jeopardize the safety of an eagle’s eggs and hatched young.
The agency recommends keeping a distance between human activity and the nest, preserving natural, forested areas around nest trees, and avoiding specific activities during the eagles’ breeding season.
Legal Provisions for Safety
Despite removal from the Endangered Species list in 2007, the bald eagle continues to be protected under federal law. The law extends beyond the birds themselves to protect their feathers and parts, nests, nest trees and winter/nighttime roosts.
“Although no longer an endangered/threatened species, the bald eagle has received special protection due to its national symbolism and this was codified in the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act,” Oliver said.