MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – For at least another year Vermont will continue to hold the dubious distinction of being the only state in the continental U.S. that isn’t home to any breeding bald eagles.

Never mind that New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York are all home to many successful bald eagle families, some of which are nesting within a few hundred yards of Vermont. And there are many immature eagles soaring above the Green Mountain state.

Biologists discovered on Wednesday that their latest hope, an eagle pair they had been watching incubate eggs in a treetop nest near the Connecticut River in Rockingham, had disappeared.

It might have been the inexperience of the female, which still had some of the plumage of a youngster, that led to the loss of the nest within the last few days, said Forrest Hammond, a biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, who had been watching the pair.

“We suspect, from what the experts tell us, the birds might have left the eggs at the same time. A crow might have gotten the eggs. A seagull (another known eagle egg predator) was seen in the area at about the same,” Hammond said.

“We’re all really disappointed,” Hammond said. “It’s too late for them to re-nest this year.”

But there’s always next year.

“There’s a great big, good nest,” Hammond said. “If there was a problem, it’s a lack of experience. They’ll stick around and try again next year.”

To compound the frustration of Vermont biologists, Hammond said that an eagle pair has been breeding successfully on the eastern shore of the Connecticut River in Plainfield, N.H., for several years, across from Hartland.

Nationwide the bald eagle was pushed to the brink of extinction by the use of the chemical DDT. But the revival of the population is touted as a great wildlife success story. Breeding pairs have returned to all the states in the continental United States and Alaska.

The state is making an effort to bring them back. Since 2004 dozens of eaglets have been raised in special boxes in the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison. The hope is that once they mature, they will start raising their young in the Vermont section of the Lake Champlain Valley. But birds released there haven’t matured enough yet to reproduce.

For the last several years Vermont has been trying to lure breeding eagles to Vermont territory. They’ve built nests and laid deer carcasses near them to feed the eagles. There have been close calls.

Two years ago a pair hatched an eaglet in Rockingham, but a few weeks later the young bird was found dead. They hoped the pair would return in 2007, but in late 2006 the nest blew over in a storm.

After that the state hired a crew from Massachusetts to climb a tree and build them a nest, but that didn’t work either. “The eagles looked it over real close and decided not to use it,” Hammond said.

Hammond said it was the same male that tried again in Rockingham this year, but with a new, younger mate.

Hammond couldn’t exclude the possibility eagles might be breeding along some remote bodies of water in the state and they haven’t been discovered. But white-headed eagles draw the attention of the public and they’re usually reported.

“People call us a lot with reports of mature bald eagles,” Hammond said. “What we’d get excited about is if they see them with nesting materials.”

AP-ES-05-15-08 1606EDT

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