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Teen bald eagles acting out and showing off

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Mature bald eagles sport the white heads that their young don’t develop for five or six years.

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO
A bald eagle soaring over Shelter Island.

Teens of any species apparently will behave the same.

That’s the message sent by young bald eagles spotted around Shelter Island in recent weeks, who are acting out and testing limits.

Sightings of these magnificent birds were once rare, but no more. With a swelling population, many of the eagles Islanders are seeing now are young birds soaring to explore new territory, according to Island experts and at Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

Eagles are frequent flyers, spending the first five or six years of their lives flying many miles — as much as 1,000 in single week —  not only around the places where they were born, but even coming here from as far away as Florida.

Once almost extinct, a breeding program encouraged by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has increased the bald eagle population “dramatically,” according to Dr. Kevin McGowan of the Cornell.

“Teenage” — in bird years — eagles behave differently from their parents, Dr. McGowan said. The older birds avoid people as much as possible. The teenagers are apparently more people-friendly — or more confident risk-takers — with some even found nesting in city parks.

The youngsters also dress differently than their elders, without the white head that gives them their name and makes them so identifiable. That plumage only comes with maturity, said Mashomack Preserve Natural Resources Manager Mike Mr. Scheibel.

But all eagles are instantly recognizable by their wide, majestic wingspans, Dr. McGowan said.
At least two of the teenagers showing off here were born at Mashomack last spring where their parents were found nesting and eventually two young heads popped up. Mr. Scheibel was cautious in keeping people away from the nesting to avoid scaring them away.

While human teens flock to Florida for a winter break many of their eagle counterparts head north, apparently assuming spring is on the way, Dr. McGowan said.

The best place to see the birds, according to the experts, is from a North and South ferry boat. The eagles are frequenting the waterways in search of food, diving for fish and picking up ducks on ice floes, Dr. McGowan said.

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