Spotting Eagles

Posted on 25 February 2010

eagle cropped

It’s unusual, but not rare, to spot an immature eagle in the skies over the East End. In fact there have been sightings of the big birds from Amagansett to the East Hampton Airport to Noyac Bay in the past few months.

But it is extremely rare to see a fully mature bald eagle.

Greg Boeklan of Sag Harbor spotted one last week and took the photo above.

The eagle was in the field on the east side of Route 114 just south of Steven Hands Path in East Hampton, eyeing a piece of meat a crow was loudly defending. We don’t know the outcome of the confrontation; but we can guess.

There are about two or three eagle sightings a year on the East End, said Larry Penny, director of natural resources for East Hampton Town. The vast majority of those sightings are the younger, or immature eagles, identified by their predominantly gray-brown color. The younger ones, said Penny, are more adventurous and prone to explore more.

It isn’t until an eagle becomes four or five years old that it gets darker body feathers and its distinctive white — or bald — head. Of all the eagle sightings, only one in about 15 is of a fully mature eagle, said Penny.

The eagles seen here are spotted generally during the winter and for the most part are passing through.

“How long they stay depends on the pickings,” said Penny, noting the birds can be scavengers, surviving on road kill. They are also great fishers, which makes up most of their diet, and will catch fish the way an osprey will.

They are rarely seen by the side of the road, as other scavengers might be, but will feed on deer, for example, that have hobbled off into the woods after being wounded or hit by a car. There has not been a nesting pair on Long Island since the 1930s, said Penny, when a nest was seen on Gardiner’s Island.

But Penny was optimistic for a comeback, noting the increased number of sightings locally and the increase in the eagle population in general.

“We know it’s going to happen; I mean they’ve nested here before,” he said.

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