WORDS ON BIRDS
Let the Search for Eagles Begin!
February 18, 2017
By Steve Grinley
the annual Merrimack River Eagle Festival in Newburyport, co-hosted
by the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center and the Parker
River National Wildlife Refuge. The milder than normal weather has
not brought the numbers of eagles into the area that we have seen in
years past. Usually when rivers and lakes freeze further north, more
eagles arrive here to fish along the Merrimack River, parts of which
stay open even during the coldest winters.
Whether you are joining a tour or plan to go on your own to any of
the designated "eagle watching sites," you still have a chance to
see eagles this weekend. There have been eagles seen on Plum Island
and along the Merrimack River over the past week. Occasionally one
or two have been spotted close to the harbor.
People have been asking where to find eagles. Usually at this time
of year, bald eagles may be seen anywhere along the Merrimack River
from Newburyport Harbor to West Newbury. The best viewing is along
the river from the harbor west to beyond the Whittier (Interstate
95) Bridge near Maudslay State Park. Good vantage points are from
the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center; from Cashman Park
along Merrimack Street in Newburyport; from behind the Mercer
Building (open to public today only) on Merrimack Street; from Deer
Island at the Chain Bridge looking down river toward Eagle Island;
or from Main Street, Amesbury, near Lowell’s Boat Shop, looking
across the river for eagles perched in the pines and birches near
the Newburyport Pumping Station and Maudslay State Park.
Further up river you can try to find vantage points along River Road
on the West Newbury side, or along Pleasant Valley Road on the
Amesbury side. You may be lucky enough to see an eagle perched in a
tree alongside either of these roads.
The adult bald eagle with its white head and tail is easily
recognized, while the immature eagles is mostly all dark-brown with
some white in the body or wing linings, depending on its age. I t
tasks five years for the young eagles to attain the white plumaged
head and tail of a adult. Eagles are certainly distinguished by
their large size and enormous 7- to 8-foot wingspan.
Searching the waters and shoreline of the Merrimack can reward you
with close-up views of our national birds perched, soaring, and even
catching fish along the river. Eagles prefer fish but they will eat
ducks or small mammals in winter. Their keen eyesight helps in
pursuit of their prey. Eagles have two to three times greater vision
than do humans - it is their most developed sense.
The eagles' talons are its real weapons. When diving upon its prey,
it spreads its talons out in a cross-like fashion. Its hind toe is
its most powerful with the longest, strongest talon. When striking,
the force of impact drives the hind talon into the side of its
quarry while the others encircle it. Eagles use their sharp beak to
tear open their prey and will consume it bones and all. Their strong
stomach acids dissolve the bones.
Over the next month or so will be your best chance to catch sight of
bald eagles on the Merrimack River. A few local birds will likely
nest again along the river, but the non-resident eagles that may be
here will leave to return to their breeding grounds in New
Hampshire, Maine and eastern Canada. Birds in the northeast
generally nest from April to June. For those of you who escape to
Florida for the winter, it may interest you to know that bald eagles
in Florida breed in November and December to escape the hotter
summer in the south.
weather is forecasted as conducive for outdoor activities. So go out
this weekend to one of the sites along the river and scan the trees
and the sky for eagles. If you go today, during the festival, there
will be naturalists stationed at most sites with spotting scopes
and, hopefully, you will get awesome views of these majestic birds.
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194 Route 1
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