Jeff Green | Dec 15, 2005
NatureReflections - December 15, 2005
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Nature ReflectionsDecember 15, 2005
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Over the past two weeks I have had a number of reports of Bald Eagles - one from Gail Burgess who saw it flying over Cranberry Lake at treetop level, another at Silver Lake watched by Brian and Bronwen Sutton, the bird swooping down several times toward the lake, then returning to a branch and watching over the lake. There was a report of two eagles in the same area previously. Another eagle was spotted near Armstrong Road by Bob Ritchie sitting in the middle of a field, and then flying up to perch on a large tree.
This is the season for the eagles to move from areas in which they have nested (at least three of these were mature birds), looking for food. The one swooping down on Silver Lake was probably harassing a duck. A wise duck avoids this predator by diving. By swooping down several times it was probably hoping the duck would make a mistake or grow tired and not dive, giving the eagle the opportunity to snatch it from the water and have dinner. The one on the ground may have either killed something or spotted something that looked like food - they will eat almost anything.
A low breeding rate (Bald Eagles do not breed until about five years old and the older chick eats first and often kills the younger siblings) along with pesticides, particularly DDT, human disturbance and destruction of nesting habitat had placed this bird on the endangered list. In the past they were often shot because it was considered a "bad bird", but public education has helped to dispel this myth, and today it is considered threatened only in certain regions.
However majestic these birds look, they are primarily scavengers, and in late autumn and winter many remain near open waters where food may be cast up on the shores. Here, they may find a dead or dying fish, or the body of a mammal that has been killed by other predators. The excellent eyesight these birds have enables them to spot potential food from some distance. As winter freezes lakes and quiet rivers, the birds move to areas where the water will remain open for the season, such as along the St. Lawrence River. Throughout the winter near the Ivy Lea Bridge there are usually several birds that can be seen perched high in the trees keeping a close lookout for potential food.
Opportunists, the eagles have long been known to gather in large numbers on the British Columbia coast and rivers to scavenge on spawning salmon. Now, the salmon farming in New Brunswick has become another opportunity, and several birds may be seen at one time near salmon-processing plants. In Nova Scotia at Sheffield Mills in King's County, they feed on dead chickens that are put out by the poultry farmers and these feedings have been turned into an annual event, attracting thousands of people in a single "Eagle Watch Weekend". During these feedings, it is not unusual to see 40 eagles sitting in a single tree. Areas like these have become a bonus for the birds, particularly the unskilled immatures that still need to learn how to survive.
So watch for these birds. Up close you can see its confident posture, powerful hooked beak and talons, and its ‘perpetually-concerned’ facial expression, as one writer describes it. Watch it in flight and see the beauty of its massive, powerful wings as it circles or soars.
Observations: Gail Burgess has Evening Grosbeaks and the usual regulars at her feeder. Brian Sutton reports a Great Blue Heron on December 1 - at that time still open water for them along the old railway line that crosses Armstrong Road. He and I both saw the 2 swans back on McGowan Lake on November 30 - the lake had previously frozen but was open again after the mild day and wind.