Less than 10 years ago, seeing a bald eagle on Long Island was the cause for a rare bird alert. When Mashomack confirmed a pair of nesting eagles on the preserve in 2014, it was cause for jubilation.
Bald eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, which loosely translates to “the sea eagle with a white head,” are famous for being the national bird of the United States. With an 8’ wingspan, fierce looks and the distinction of making a major comeback after being on the endangered species list, the eagle is a conservation success story.
Bald eagles had an historic distribution across the continental U.S. Habitat destruction, illegal shooting and food contamination with the pesticide DDT decimated the population. DDT was widely used in the 1950s and 1960s, which caused eggshell thinning in top-of-the-food-chain birds such as eagles, ospreys and peregrine falcons. Once DDT was banned nationwide in 1972, a slow recovery began.
Eagles mate for life and use the same nesting territory each year. They prefer heavily wooded areas with tall trees for nesting and perching. Feeding primarily on fish, they are also known to feast on carrion. With Long Island’s easy access to water and abundant small mammals, eagles don’t have a food shortage.
However, like ospreys, eagles vary in the amount of human disturbance they can tolerate. Most prefer a more secluded nesting location, a more difficult commodity in this region.
Mashomack’s eagles have produced 15 young since 2014, with another eaglet in the nest this year. Eagles take five years to mature, meaning that our first eaglets are hopefully now raising broods of their own.
While some may become discouraged with news of the world’s many environmental problems, we only need to look to our local populations of ospreys and eagles to see that while humans have a hand in exacerbating many of them, we also have the power to recognize and mitigate these challenges.