February-March Bald Eagle Sightings


Great Diamond Island Bald Eagle Photo © Jill

Several individuals have reported sightings of Bald Eagles around Peaks Island, especially in the Evergreen area, so we think it would be informative to create a prologue to the March Bird Blog.

Glancing over the snow-covered world outside my window in late February, I looked up and saw a large bird with a whitish rump fly over the evergreen trees. I did not consider that it was an eagle, because, I admit that, I was unaware that eagles might be here in February. Michelle and I also saw a large darkish bird in a clearing near Brackett Pond, but we were unable to verify if it was a large dark hawk or an immature eagle. We remained puzzled, as we resumed our snowshoeing over Brackett Pond.

Then in early March, we received great news that Bald Eagle activity has been seen from the Evergreen side of the island. Jill observed them at their aerie (great word) on Great Diamond Island – she describes it as “seeing two white heads that pop up on occasion”. She apparently sees them each day, and she has observed an immature Bald Eagle nearby. Karen, also from this side of the island, saw one of the eagles fly over her yard facing the Diamond Islands. An article in the recent Yankee Magazine says that a Bald Eagle pair remains together year round in the vicinity of their nest (1). Wikipedia states that “Bald Eagles are early breeders: nest building is often by mid-February; egg laying is often late February (sometimes in the North when deep snow is present); and incubation is usually from mid-March to early May. Eggs hatch from mid April to early May, and the young fledge late June to early July. The nest is used repeatedly over many years and with new material added each year” (2).

Joyce L. who also lives near Evergreen Landing has observed the eagles over the year: "I see Bald Eagles almost daily and I have all winter. We have seen two adults together and three juveniles together, so there are at least five of them in the neighborhood. They arrive from the NW, so they may live on Great Diamond, although I had suspected they lived on a lesser populated island." Joyce also notes how our marauding crows can intimidate even an eagle: "We have about a dozen crows that I believe nest in the white pines. They let me know when an eagle is around. One day an eagle was sitting on the very top of a white pine with her prey in her talons. The crows would dive bomb her every time she tried to fly away. So she ate it rather than take it home to her family, and then flew away." Joyce's landscaper was so mesmerized by this majestic eagle pair that she wanted to pay her for the experience, instead of receiving payment for her garden work.

Marty also acknowledges seeing the eagles, and says that the theory around the community is that the they live on Great Diamond Island. He observed them recently and describes his sighting: “A week or so ago I saw three of them soaring above the Avenue House down front, two incredibly low and one way way above them. Two with white heads, one with brown. They slipped sideways down Centennial Beach above the water's edge, which I've watched them do several times, getting higher and higher, probably looking for lunch, then disappeared around the TEIA.”

On June 20, 2014 I saw a juvenile eagle on Brackett Pond, perhaps just recently fledged. Is this juvenile eagle in this photograph the same immature eagle that Jill and Joyce L. saw this winter near the Diamond Island?

Peaks Island Juvenile Bald Eagle Photo © Patty Wainright

Michelle noted that last year she saw an active Bald Eagle nest on Great Diamond, facing Peaks Island. Since their sailboat was moored nearby they were able to observe the nest all summer. Wikipedia also states that the Bald Eagle generally does not nest near human activity, so it is intriguing that this pair has chosen a tree overlooking the ferry and shipping lane between Great Diamond and Peaks Islands, and nearby our community boat activities. We hope that they continue to ‘enjoy’ the gentle entertainment we offer, as we sail by their aerie this summer.

An incredible Bald Eagle sighting that Kathy and the crew and passengers of the ferryboat observed one cold day in March, demonstrates that even our national bird has moments of humility, but can rise above it with dignity. Kathy’s story: “ Last week coming home from Portland the boat slowed down so we could watch an adult Bald Eagle try to lift a large fish from the water. It was quite a struggle. The bird was soaked. He finally gave up and was able to fly to a nearby small snow berg on the water. The boat continued on so we didn’t see if eagle’s wings were dry enough for him to fly away. Can they get too wet and the bird is in peril? Very cold out that day.”

Michelle’s response to Kathy’s question: “What I understand is that Bald Eagles are primarily fish eaters so they have evolved to catch fish on the wing. However, I also understand that if they try to grab a fish from the water that is too heavy for them to fly off with, ending up in the water and getting too wet to fly, they will swim in a kind of like breast stroke using their wings, back to shore. I also understand that, if they are too far off shore to swim back to it, they can unfortunately drown. Hopefully, the eagle you saw either got out of the water before he/she got too wet or, at least, was able to breast stroke it back to shore.”

Did the Bald Eagle that ‘rode the iceberg’ get to safety? Did anyone get a photograph from the ferryboat? Is this bird one of the birds that Jill has observed on Diamond Island? Jill, have you seen the pair of white heads pop out of their aerie since Kathy observed the water soaked eagle from the ferry? If so and if it is the same eagle, then it is good news that this eagle survived its drenching. How did the eagle dry the saltwater soaked feathers, so that their function of insulation was in effect that cold night?

Kathy also asked “How many Bald Eagles could be in the area?” And, Michelle responded by saying: “To answer your question, I really don't know. The only eagle nest that I've observed and that others have told me about is the one on Great Diamond that we've all noticed. Looking through my books on raptor biology, I read that field researchers have recorded that nesting Bald Eagles need from 0.6 to 1.2 square miles of nesting habitat depending on the availability of food, and they will defend that territory pretty heartily from other eagles. This changes in the winter, though, when bald eagles hang out in close proximity of each other, especially around a food source like a dump, salmon run, or lake with good fishing. Most of their territorial behavior occurs during nesting when they have the added pressure of young to feed.” Several years ago I saw several (5-8) Bald Eagles circling and calling over the north end of Cliff Island.

With Kathy’s above question on her mind, Michelle thought of a great idea for all of us to consider:

“Maybe we could start an eagle nest count for the nearby Casco Bay area asking folks to report the eagle nests they see and where they're located to get an idea of how many nesting pairs we have in the area?” Sounds good to me, Michelle. Anyone interested? It would be fun. How can we get the other islanders (Cushing, Cliff, Chebeague, Long Island, the Diamond Islands) interested?

References

1. Anderson, Cindy. 2015. Back Among Us. Yankee Magazine. Pages 18-21.

Favorite eagle-sighting places in New England

2. Wikipedia: Bald Eagles

Other Information

Berry College Eagle Cam

Bald Eagle Sibling Rivalry: PBS/Nature

If you have any additional bird sightings you would like to share or questions regarding Peak's bird life, you can send them to: brownmichh@aol.com

Stories by: Michelle, Kathleen, Karen, Marty, Jill, and Joyce L.

Compiled by: Patty Wainright

Reviewed by: Sam Wainright

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