The Season Is Looking Up For Eagle Fans

By John Dyer
BOSTON, MA–The eagles have landed.

The season for Bald Eagles is at its height in Boston’s western suburbs, according to wildlife experts, giving residents a once-a-year window of opportunity to see America’s national symbol up close. And local reservoirs are considered perfect places to view the majestic birds, the experts said.

“At this time of year, we have more Bald Eagles generally concentrated in Massachusetts than any other season,” said Wayne Petersen, an ornithologist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

The area’s large bodies of water are now attracting Bald Eagles roaming in search of food. As fish-eating birds, eagles living in Canada and Maine during the spring and summer head south in the winter to search for ice-free rivers, lakes, and ponds where they can reach prey.

“There’s not as much open water during the winter in the north,” said Marion Larson, a biologist with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Believe it or not, we’re Florida for the eagles.”

Larson added that recent spates of warm weather might lead more eagles to journey to spots where they aren’t usually seen. “A lot of the ponds that were iced over may be open,” she said. “If a lot of ponds are not frozen, they’re going to be scattered more widely.”

Last week’s survey logged five Bald Eagles in Boston’s western suburbs, where the two adults and three juveniles represented an increase from the two adults counted last year, according to a MassWildlife statement. A total of 71 eagles were documented statewide, compared with 49 last year. Almost 20,000 Bald Eagles live in the United States now, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some of those Bald Eagles are among the approximately 25 pairs nesting permanently in Massachusetts,  said Tom French, assistant director of MassWildlife. Others will head north in the spring to return to their nests.

While Bald Eagles mate for life, males and females temporarily separate when they aren’t hatching eggs and fledging, or rearing, their chicks, French said. They can easily cover 150 miles a day, he said, using their superior eyesight and vantage point, at around 1,000 ft. in the air, to locate good fishing ponds and other eagles.

Some of the Bald Eagles seen over the next few weeks are the offspring of birds introduced to the area in the 1980s, when the state and MassAudubon brought young eagles from Michigan and Canada to the Quabbin. Prior to that, the last eagles on record as nesting in Massachusetts were on Cape Cod in 1905. At the time, habitat loss and hunters were decimating the eagle population.

As the century progressed, agricultural pesticides such as DDT found their way into the Bald Eagle’s food chain. DDT softened the birds’ eggshells, resulting in fewer chicks surviving to adulthood. By 1963, according to US Fish and Wildlife, barely 400 pairs of nesting eagles lived in the lower 48 states. In the ensuing decades, DDT was banned, eagles were placed under the protection of the endangered species list, and their population rebounded.

While Bald Eagles are generally thought of as noble birds, and certainly appear regal with their white heads and dark-feathered bodies, in reality they are lazy and often steal other animals’ food, said Petersen.

“You’d think the national emblem is a little more macho,” he said. “Even though they’re perfectly capable of catching prey, they’ll eat carrion, particularly in the winter.”–Boston Globe