The first bald eagle nest has been spotted on Cape Cod in more than a century; a good sign for this once endangered species as its presence in Massachusetts continues to grow, state wildlife officials said.
More than 70 active bald eagle nests have been seen across the state this spring, with nine new nests being in made in Fitchburg, Wenham, Concord, Rutland, Wareham, Medford, Northampton, Hudson, and Barnstable, according to a statement from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
The nest in Barnstable marks the first time bald eagle eggs have been laid on Cape Cod since 1905, when a nest was spotted in Sandwich.
“People are just awestruck when they see a bald eagle,” said Marion Larson, a spokeswoman for MassWildlife. “There’s a thrill to seeing them here because they weren’t in Massachusetts for quite a few years.”
The number of bald eagles in the United States dropped significantly during the first half of the 20th century. Industrial chemicals and pollutants, along with deforestation, destroyed parts of their habitat, and humans hunted the birds because they thought they were killing livestock and depleting salmon populations, MassWildlife said.
Bald eagles were first listed as federally endangered species in 1967. The birds were absent from Massachusetts from 1905 until 1982, when several eagles were discovered wintering in the Quabbin Reservoir area.
MassWildlife and its partners brought young bald eagles from Canada and Michigan to live in the reservoir during the 1980s, hoping to restore the species’ population in the state, Larson said. As of 2019, more than 845 chicks are known to have fledged in Massachusetts since their restoration.
“If you get them young enough they will imprint on this area, meaning they will see this area as their home," Larson said. "The first nest we saw after we brought in the eagles was in 1989. One of the chicks we raised found a mate and nested at the Quabbin Reservoir.”
Thanks to conservation efforts, bald eagles were removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in August 2007. Their status was also recently upgraded from threatened to special concern on the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act list, according to MassWildlife.
The number of bald eagle nests in Massachusetts continues to grow. Larson said about 70 nests were spotted in 2019, and more are expected to be recorded this year.
Bald eagles are most frequently seen near the Quabbin Reservoir and are also spotted in the Berkshires, central Massachusetts, and in the north east part of the state. They typically go back to the same nests each year, but Larson said they will occasionally lay their eggs in a new spot.
“We’re always checking the old nests to see if there is actually nesting activity going on,” Larson said. “We found nine new nests so far this year, which is really exciting.”
MassWildlife also recorded the first known nest on Martha’s Vineyard this spring, but the eggs were destroyed before they could hatch.
A bald eagle pair took over an osprey nest on the island and laid eggs there, MassWildlife said. But when the ospreys returned from their wintering grounds, they harassed the eagles and caused them to accidentally claw open the eggs while trying to defend the nest with their talons.
Bald eagle chicks in two other nests in Massachusetts were also killed during attacks by intruding birds this spring. While sad, MassWildlife said these events are a sign of a thriving eagle population in the region.
A bald eagle that hatched at the Quabbin Reservoir in 1997 migrated to New Hampshire and nested there between 2007 and 2014. The bird recently became the oldest bald eagle ever recorded in the Granite State, MassWildlife said.
“More and more people across the Commonwealth are experiencing the thrill of seeing eagles in their own neighborhoods as these birds continue to expand their range to urban and suburban landscapes,” MassWildlife said in the statement.
To report bald eagle sightings or donate to MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Engdangered Species Program, visit MassWildlife’s website.