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Results Positive For First Massachusetts Bald Eagle Nesting Survey

Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game have released their results of the first statewide bald eagle nesting survey, conducted earlier this spring.

The Department of Fish and Game has announced that 30 active bald eagle nets have been verified in Massachusetts, from the Berkshires to Cape Cod. The eagles were spotted as part of the state’s first bald eagle nesting survey, which was coordinated by the department’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and involved agency staff and volunteers.

State ornithologist Andrew Vitz said that since the count day on April 5th, more sightings of bald eagles have been reported across the state.

"Since that day we've had reports coming in from the public, in addition to our staff continuing to get out and look for eagle nests," said Vitz. "We look like we're going to eclipse last year's record highs."

Bald eagles disappeared from Massachusetts in the mid-20th century due detrimental effects of DDT, a chemical pesticide that was commonly used across the United States. The chemical, which passed up the food chain, prevented the eagles and other species from reproducing by thinning the bird’s eggshells.  Although some protections had been in place previously, the bald eagle was recognized as a national endangered species in 1976.

Through extensive restoration efforts, the bald eagle was reclassified as a threatened species in Massachusetts in 2011. It was removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society was one of the organizations that partnered with the state in the 1980s to reintroduce bald eagles, originally at the Quabbin reservoir.

Wayne Petersen, Director of the Important Bird Areas Program at MassAudubon, said that the eagle should be able to keep finding a sufficient habitat in Massachusetts for years to come.

"I think Massachusetts still has sufficient habitat to support additional pairs of nesting eagles," said Petersen. "I think there's every reason to be optimistic."

Bald eagles typically live around large bodies of water and prey on fish.

Eagles have been recorded in the state before as part of a federal study. Ornithologist Andrew Vitz said that the state’s Bald Eagle Nesting Survey was the first of its kind to catalogue eagles in the spring, which would more accurately distinguish the nesting birds from migratory visitors. Vitz said there are already plans to continue the study next year.

"This was the first eagle count but we already have plans to make that an annual event indefinitely, essentially, into the future until...we know that they're doing fine,” said Vitz.

The results of the survey were good news for local environmentalist Jane Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team. Winn, a vocal supporter of the cleanup of PCB contaminants from the Housatonic River, said that the eagles’ return demonstrates how nature can recover if action is taken.

"The environment can recover from most damage, but it can't recover from toxic poison," said Winn.

Later this month Mass Audubon will conduct its annual bird-a-thon fundraiser, expected to draw out birders across the state. When asked if he expects birders to spot bald eagles, Wayne Petersen answered,"absolutely. I can say that with 100 percent confidence."

For more information:


To report sightings  email natural.heritage@state.ma.us

Mail reports to: 

"Eagle Survey"
Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
100 Hartwell Street, Suite 230
West Boylston, MA 01583.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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