The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus lecocephalus), the largest bird of prey in Massachusetts, at one time suffered similar fates to many bird species, including targeted killing, habitat loss, and mortality due to DDT and other pesticide uses, which ultimately resulted in federal endangerment status effective in 1967. Protections efforts brought eagles back and off the Federal Endangered Species List in 2007.
In Massachusetts, nesting eagles had vanished way back in the early 1900s, with birds mostly limited to a wintering population in the Quabbin Reservoir, first discovered in the mid-eighties. Reintroduction efforts by MassWildlife, including introducing 41 eagles from Canada and Michigan to the Quabbin in the late eighties, helped start to reestablish pairs, with the first confirmed breeding record in 1989. Since that time the nesting population has expanded to as far as Cape Cod. From 2018 through 2022, numbers of territorial pairs surpassed 70, and wild-born fledged chicks between 60-70 in all but two of those years, and over 750 total chicks fledging since the first nest discovery. In Massachusetts, eagles were listed as “endangered” under the MA Endangered Species Act, then upgraded to “special concern” in 2012, the current status, with habitat loss of wetlands bordered by mature forest, an ongoing threat.
When the wintering population remained of primary interest, the Lloyd Center tracked the pair(s) at Wattuppa Pond, where the breeding birds remained for the winter. The survey focus in recent history shifted to the spring breeding population as numbers of pairs increased, with eagles a more common sight year round, and nests as close as the Westport River. On the Slocum River, where the pictured bird has been seen by participants on multiple recent bird walks near the mouth of the estuary, birds have become a more common winter sighting, perhaps due to increased nesting close to or in the region. This bird joined another (a pair??) recently on our osprey platform. Eagles winter near estuaries where access to fish exists, and pairs are constructing nests in December and February in preparation for egg-laying in March and April. An adult has been seen fairly regularly, with an immature bird passing through occasionally.
For Bald Eagle viewing, the Slocum River at the Lloyd Center has become a great option!
Photos courtesy of Pamela Lowell