SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Yes, it’s true, the bald eagles have returned to Massachusetts yet again, and I have no doubt that they would love to see you. As I whittle through my bucket list in life, one of the items was to see bald eagles in the wild, something which I thought might require a trip to the Alaska Wilderness. Fortunately, I was completely wrong, and we actually have a great opportunity to see these majestic creatures just a short drive away from Shrewsbury, at the fantastic Quabbin Reservoir. I set out on my little trek first thing in the morning, and with a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way, I arrived less than an hour later at the Windsor Dam parking site just off Route 9 in Barre.
I would love to report that I hiked for hours, trying to somehow ferret out my prey, but alas it was far simpler than that. Making my way over to the lookout I set up my camera, and waited just couple of minutes when the first of these gorgeous birds swooped not 20 feet in front of me trying to grab a fish from the lake. He put on a great show, to say the least, but this was in November, and was only one of the year-round bald eagles. Now, in January, your chances are much better because 50-100 pairs of eagles from up north fly our way each year to winter in the relatively warm Quabbin climate. If you have a moment, head on out to the Quabbin this weekend, bring your camera, and enjoy a true Massachusetts Treasure.
Here’s some more info about the Massachusetts Bald Eagle Population, from an outside source.
EAGLES IN MASSACHUSETTS
The Bald Eagle was historically a very rare breeder in Massachusetts, and prior to 1989, the last presumed nesting of this species was at the beginning of the century. In 1982, however, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife teamed with Mass Audubon to launch a project to restore the Bald Eagle as a breeding bird in the Commonwealth.
In the spring of that year, two eagle nestlings were brought from Michigan and raised in a specially-constructed nest platform on a remote peninsula in Quabbin Reservoir. These chicks were fed by eagle puppets, so they would imprint on their own species, rather than on humans. The hope was that these young birds would remain, or return to breed in the area in which they were reared. The birds were successfully introduced into the wild, and between 1982 and 1988 (the year the program ended), 41 eagle chicks were brought from Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Michigan, to be raised and released at Quabbin Reservoir.
Bald Eagles take four or five years to reach breeding maturity, and in 1989, two pairs of eagles successfully reared young at Quabbin. The parents included “Ross,” the first eagle to be raised at Quabbin in 1982. In the years that followed, the number of nesting eagles has increased and spread across the state. In 2010, 17 Bald Eagle nests in Massachusetts produced a total of 28 chicks who survived the nestling stage and fledged; Nests have been confirmed at: Quabbin Reservoir, along the Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers, and on lakes in Plymouth County. Massachusetts-born eagles have also been documented as nesting in Connecticut and New York, adding to the recovery of the species in the northeast.
During the winter months, when the nesting season is over, Bald Eagles can be seen searching for food in any large pond, lake, or river in the state. Each January, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife conducts an Eagle Survey across the Commonwealth and, during the 2011 Eagle Count, held on January 7, 104 wintering Bald Eagles were counted in Massachusetts.
An adult Bald Eagle is unmistakable, with white head and tail contrasting sharply with its dark body. First year young birds are entirely dark, and do not acquire their full adult plumage until their fourth or fifth year. A similar species, only occasionally seen in Massachusetts, is the Golden Eagle, which is entirely dark with a golden wash over its head and neck.
Eagles mate for life, or until one of the pair dies. Courtship behavior can include a spectacular flight display in which the birds lock talons and tumble down through the air for hundreds of feet. Once the young eagles are able to find food on their own (usually in early fall), the parents go their separate ways and remain solitary until the following breeding season
The pair constructs a nest of sticks lined with finer materials, usually high in a living tree. New material is added to the nest each year, so that thirty to forty-year-old nests have been recorded of up to twelve feet deep and weighing a ton or more.
Females lay one to three eggs, which hatch at approximately 35 days. Both parents share in the incubation and feeding of the young. In July, somewhere between 10 and 14 weeks after the babies hatch, they are ready leave the nest, but the parents will continue to feed and care for them until September or even October.
Bald Eagles eat fish when there is open water, but during the winter months they will also prey on ducks and geese which they find swimming in rivers or standing on the ice. If carrion is available, it will be readily accepted. Depending on the availability of food, Bald Eagles can fly dozens and dozens of miles from one food source to another.
WHERE TO SEE EAGLES IN MASSACHUSETTS
Bald Eagle sightings are becoming more and more frequent in Massachusetts. They can sometimes be seen from the Enfield Lookout at Quabbin Reservoir during the winter, as well as during the spring/summer nesting season. Check at the Visitor’s Center, located at the southern end of the Quabbin, off Route 9, to see where Bald Eagles are being seen.