The American bald eagle is being spotted all over Long Island, including on the East End. Michael Scheibel, the Natural Resources Manager of the Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island, calls it, “One of the greatest conservation victories on Long Island.” He credits the vision and efforts of Dennis Puleston of the E.D.F. (Environmental Defense Fund) way back in the late 1960’s for eradicating DDT and its harm from Long Island. Now over 50 years later the American bald eagle is nesting successfully all over the Island. Michael said the nest in Mashomack has been there since 2014 and many people riding the South Ferry have seen the mighty birds soaring up in the skies over the Island for the last few years.
In the last 30 years the East End of Long Island has had an ambitious program to build and maintain nests for ospreys. It has been very successful. Everyone enjoy seeing the ospreys in their man made nest by the waterfronts all over the East End. Now we also have bald eagles, but in mighty tree nests.
Rebecca Grella, Ph.D., an Ecology & Evolutionary Biologist, when asked about the effect of bald eagles and osprey coexisting on the East End said, “Bald eagles are champs at pirating prey, an osprey will catch a fish and an eagle will go after the osprey forcing the osprey to drop the fish. Eagles will then catch the fish mid-air. Eagles and ospreys have territory battles, but they figure it out. Sure, eagles are bullies! However, I think osprey do a great job raising their young in spite of the eagles through their amazing fishing skills. Osprey will continue to catch fish hopefully not releasing them all! Nice to see that our waters are filled with fish, says something good about our environment. The eagle is here to stay as long as we keep our waters clean thus enhancing their food supply!”
An American bald eagle consumes an average of between 1 and ½ pounds of food each day, however they don’t actually eat every day. Their diet consists of all sorts of fish such as herring, shad, and catfish – depending on what’s available. Bald eagles also eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates such as crabs. They also indulge in mammals including rabbits and muskrat. If you are worried about your small dogs and cats, the lift capacity of bald eagles ranges 3 to 4 pounds. They have snatched dogs and cats. The penalty since 1972 for killing a bald eagle is a $5,000 to $10,000 fine with more than two years in prison if done a second time.
Ospreys eat primarily all types of fish, usually 6 to 13 inches. They consume .661 pounds of food each meal. On the cohabit issue, Michael Scheibel, who studied at Cornell, also weighed in. Although he called bald eagles “top predators” and concurred that they do raid flying osprey of fish, he stated there is such a plentiful supply of fish locally. Therefore he doesn’t see any problem that would reduce the present osprey population. When asked about how dense an eagle population might evolve on Long Island, he said there are territorial issues so in the end they will not overpopulate.
Finally, in the Springs, East Hampton, near the Stop and Shop, there is also an eagles nest. Forbes Rivas, my buddy from the boatyard in East Hampton, reports that he has been keeping an eye on them. Other confirmed sightings are up island in Centerport of Route 25A and in the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley. How does one identify a bald eagle nest besides seeing the eagles in it? The nests are usually in the tallest tree of a group of large trees and they are 4 to 5 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet deep. The largest one reported is 9.5 feet in diameter and an amazing 20 feet deep.
So nature lovers keep your eyes open for the distinctive flying style of the American bald eagle, now here to stay on Long Island. If you have seen an eagle or an eagle’s nest please add a comment. You don’t have to give the exact location, but please give the general area.