Getting Ready to Nest

By John Adamski

Having been housebound due to recent surgery, combined with weather conditions that would test anyone’s mettle, I haven’t been able to check on any of my area bald eagle nests to see if this year’s housekeeping duties have begun. But some of my spotters have been keeping me updated and it looks like the birds are already preparing for the upcoming nesting season.

Bill and Gail Carr, who live on Stone Hill Road in Livonia, were the first to contact me with this email just over a month ago: “Although we do not consider ourselves bird watchers, after 24 years at this location, we wanted to report to you our very first-ever eagle sighting on our property this morning around 8:30 a.m. What a wonderful ‘late’ Christmas present. We did not have time to take a photo as it was suddenly chased from its perch atop one of our ash trees by our regular local 4-member family of crows. We have heard that eagles had begun to appear in the hills around Springwater and Bristol, but we had never seen them this far north in Livingston County until today. So, we thought we would like to share this great news with you.”

Like the Carrs, every day more people are pleasantly surprised by the unexpected sighting of a bald eagle. The recovery story of this magnificent bird of prey—once on the brink of extinction—is nothing short of amazing. Fifty years ago, a single pair of bald eagles remained in the entire state of New York. It nested at the south end of Hemlock Lake and served as the catalyst for the state’s bald eagle restoration program. Today there are more than 300 bald eagle territories spread across the state and dozens right here in the Finger Lakes Region. I know of nine eagle nests within a half-hour’s drive from my home in Dansville.

As long as it remains intact, a pair of eagles will use the same nest, or aerie, year after year. Beginning in January, a bit of home remodeling takes place as the eagles beef up their nest and repair any structural damage that may have occurred during the winter. At the same time, they are assuring that their nest won’t be hijacked by a pair of great horned owls, which begin nesting a month earlier than eagles do. Great horned owls do not build nests of their own and instead commandeer the nests of other birds of prey. Several of my spotters have reported seeing eagles in flight carrying sticks and branches, reinforcing the notion that nesting preparation is underway.

A female bald eagle will lay from one to three eggs beginning in the middle of March. The most common clutch is two. After about 28 days of incubation, the eggs will hatch in the same order as they were laid. Once the eaglets have hatched, they male eagle will spend his waking hours hunting intensely in order to feed his family. In another ten weeks, the chicks will begin testing their flight feathers.

John has been a published writer/photographer for 40 years and is a 4-time award-winning member of New York State Outdoor Writers Association. Two of those awards were for these "Life in the Finger Lakes" articles: Plight of the White Deer and From the Brink of Extinction.

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