Breeding Bird Atlas 1 Additional Accounts

Bald Eagle


Haliaeetus leucocephalus

State Status:

 
Endangered

Federal Status:

 
Threatened

The early historical breeding status of the Bald Eagle in Massachusetts is a matter of some uncertainty. Although eagles may have nested more commonly in the Commonwealth prior to the region’s extensive settlement, “confirmed” breeding during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was, until 1989, decidedly sporadic and scattered. Reasonably solid historical evidence suggests that this species nested, at least occasionally, in Cheshire, Berkshire County; on Mount Tom, Hampden County; on Mount Toby, Franklin County; in Winchendon, Worcester County; and in Sandwich, Barnstable County. The last “confirmed” historical nesting took place at Snake Pond in Sandwich from 1900 to 1905.

The reduction and extirpation of Bald Eagle populations in some areas of the eastern United States between the 1940s and 1970s has been well documented. Various contributing factors were involved, but most critical was the increased bioaccumulation of various pesticides, especially DDT, in the reproductive tissues of adult eagles. The result was eggshell thinning, which ultimately resulted in reduced reproductive success. By the late 1960s and through the 1970s, eastern eagle populations had reached alarmingly low levels.

With the ban of DDT in 1972, a slow recovery in the health of surviving adult Bald Eagle populations began. In an effort to accelerate this gradual recovery, raptor biologists began experimenting with techniques that would assist the beleaguered birds on their road to recovery. In 1976, the first Bald Eagle hacking program in the United States began in the state of New York, where young eagles taken from nests in the Great Lakes states were returned to the wild.

In 1982, with funding provided by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife initiated a Bald Eagle hacking program at Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. From 1982 to 1988, nineteen young Bald Eagles variously taken from nests in Michigan Michigan and Canada were hand-raised and released at a hack tower at Quabbin. In 1989, the first wild Bald Eagles to nest in Massachusetts for over 75 years were recorded at the reservoir when two pairs produced three young. Since 1989, the number of pairs has increased statewide, and, as of 1999, there were 11 active nests in the Commonwealth, most of them concentrated at Quabbin Reservoir and along the Connecticut River, with one pair in eastern Massachusetts at Assawompset Pond, Middleborough, Plymouth County.

Bald Eagles may be encountered throughout the year in Massachusetts. The greatest concentrations occur at Quabbin Reservoir in midwinter when individuals occasionally numbering up to 50 birds, mostly from points north, join local eagles to feed on deer carcasses on the frozen reservoir or to hunt fish and waterfowl in the open water. Lesser winter concentrations also occur along the Connecticut River, on the lower Merrimack River in Essex County, and at several locations in Plymouth and Barnstable counties.