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Bald Eagles' Nest a Positive Sign for Shelter Island

PHOTO: The presence of this nesting bald eagle and its mate has been confirmed by Nature Conservancy staff, inside the Mashowmack Preserve on Shelter Island. Photo credit: Derek Rogers, used with permission of The Nature Conservancy.
PHOTO: The presence of this nesting bald eagle and its mate has been confirmed by Nature Conservancy staff, inside the Mashowmack Preserve on Shelter Island. Photo credit: Derek Rogers, used with permission of The Nature Conservancy.
March 19, 2014

NEW YORK - It's confirmed - a pair of nesting bald eagles has been spotted on Shelter Island, and experts say it's a positive sign not only for the birds but also for the health of local waterways.

Eagles have been making a strong comeback and now are fairly common upstate, said Mike Scheibel, a Nature Conservancy natural resources manager at the Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island, but this is only the third pair of nesting bald eagles found on Long Island, and the first ever confirmed to nest on Shelter Island.

"The birds that are here at Mashomack are actually incubating, so they have eggs at this point," he said. "The incubation period runs roughly 35 days."

Scheibel said the more than 2,000-acre Mashomack preserve was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in the 1980s to protect another bird, the osprey Now that bald eagles are nesting there too, he said, the decision speaks to the long-term value of preserved land and its significance for wildlife.

Scheibel said bald eagles only nest in places where there they can count on finding food for themselves and their young, so spotting the nest is a signal of healthy water quality and fish stock on the eastern end of Long Island.

"These birds rely in large part on fish," he said. "The fact that they can find that kind of food resource here is a very positive sign - not only for the eagles, but for everyone else as well."

The Mashowmack Preserve is open to hikers six days a week, but the nest area is off-limits even to staff for at least the next 12 weeks because eagles can easily be spooked if disturbed. Scheibel said the best time to come to see them would be later this summer or early fall.

"That's the time of the year when the young should be able to fly on their own," he said. "They're going to be learning how to fish - catch fish on their own and feed themselves."

He said the nest probably holds two eggs, which should hatch by early April. The bald eagle is no longer on the Endangered Species list, but is still protected by federal law.

More on the Mashomack Preserve is online at nature.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY