On Sunday, March 16, the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation will celebrate Paleo and Calusa, the island’s resident nesting Bald Eagle couple, at its Fourth Annual Nest Fest. The event begins at 5:30 PM with a cocktail hour at the Island Country Club and dinner to follow at 6:30 PM. Valet parking will be available, and Sound Check will entertain guests with live music. Tickets are $75 per person.
This year’s event promises to be the biggest and bet yet, according to Carl Way, chairman and founder of the volunteer, nonprofit foundation. “Nest Fest started out as an information exchange,” he explains. “We brought in people from the community and had a cocktail hour to give them the information about what the foundation was trying to do. We had just started the foundation and were working on what we needed to do to protect the resource and the eagle’s nest on the island.”
“It has turned into annual fundraising event,” he continues. “It allows us to continue awareness in the community about we are doing and about how far we have come. Every year, it is a little bigger and little better. We learn something new every year.”
The event is one way the foundation helps fund its efforts to protect and maintain the eagles, their habitat and the land on which they live. The foundation leases the property — located at 665 Tigertail Court — from Collier County Public Schools for $30,000 annually. The lease coupled with general maintenance, operational and insurance costs total $45,000-$50,000 each year. Currently, the sanctuary averages 2,500-2,800 annual visitors from all over the world.
Since its inception, Nest Fest has brought $6,000-$10,000 into the foundation’s coffers annually, and Way is hoping the community will carry on this trend in 2014. “It is important to us to continue to have local support and have some way of making sure they understand why we need the funds that we ask for,” notes Way.
The importance of the work done by the sanctuary has become evident in recent years. Two incidents of illegal fire work use on properties close to the sanctuary resulted in Paleo and Calusa abandoning their nesting area. In fact, the most recent abandonment — around the first of the year — ended in the death of an eaglet. Way speculates that the eaglet may have fallen prey to a great-horned owl who was seen in the sanctuary at the time Calusa abandoned her nest.
“Calusa was feeding the eaglet around Christmas,” Way says. “She abandoned the nest after New Year’s Eve…The great-horned owl probably got the eaglet after she left the nest.”
There is reason for hope, though. Way indicates that Paleo and Calusa have begun their mating sequence again, which means there is another opportunity for eggs and eaglets. “Mating season ends in May so there is plenty of time for that to happen,” he adds.
These additional chances are why Way and the foundation continue to work on behalf of the eagles. Currently, he is negotiating the five-year extension on the lease for the sanctuary property with Collier County Public Schools. He also is working with the Community Foundation of Collier County to ramp up the foundation’s fundraising efforts with the ultimate long-term goal of buying the land from the school district. According to Way, the foundation would like to buy the land and maintain it as a park, eventually adding a welcome center and parking area, and money is needed to do this.
To be sure, the long-term planning is necessary. It is estimated the current mating pair will maintain their nest on the Marco Island property for at least another 20 years. Moreover, their young ones will come back to the place of their birth, seeking a place to set up their own household. Even if the nest becomes inactive, it remains protected under federal law for at least six years just in case a fledging is successful in establishing it own nest nearby. One four-year-old male already came back to make a go of it, but was run off by Paleo and Calusa.
Nest Fest will help in this endeavor. “We hope that people see the good that we have done and the opportunity to help,” says Way.
For more information about Nest Fest and the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation, call 239-394-9285 or visit www.marcoeaglesanctuaryfoundation.org. Tickets also can be purchased at the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce.