October 24, 2021

Bald eagles make comeback across region, state

Majestic Return

Photo provided by Robin Randolph-Quail

A bald eagle sits on a tree in the hamlet of Messengerville. Department of Environmental Conservation of cials said the eagle population has increased over the past 50 years. There are now three pairs of breeders in Cortland County.

Seven or eight years ago, Robin Randolph-Quail noticed a pair of bald eagles sitting on a tree along the Tioughnioga River just behind her house in Marathon. She was captivated.

Soon, her fascination turned into a photography, viewing and researching hobby.

“It was such a majestic site and at that time a neighbor took some pictures of them and shared them with me. I knew then I had to get a better camera,” she said. “I was able to find their nest and began to photograph them and their surroundings — the nest, the connection with each other.”

As the years passed, she felt she was seeing more eagles, some in Messengerville, and heard they were in Preble and Cincinnatus — and a recent siting of two in Homer.

But it isn’t just here, she said- people have told her they’ve seen them in Freeville, Glen Haven, South Otselic and Lisle.

They seem to be everywhere. That’s because they are.

Cortland County had three breeding pairs that have been successfully raising eaglets for several years, said Scott Crocoll, a biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“Breeder and non-breeders have increased dramatically,” he said.

Eagle viewing tips

  • Use a designated bald eagle viewing site.
  • Scan the tree line for eagles that are perched in the tree tops.
  • Look overhead for eagles soaring high in the sky.
  • Check ice flows or river islands for eagles sunning themselves or enjoying a meal.
  • Arrive early (7 to 9 a.m.) or stay late (4 to 5 p.m.), when eagles are most active.
Eagle Etiquette:
  • Remain in or next to your vehicle, and don’t approach eagles closer than a quarter mile. Avoid roosting areas.
  • Avoid making loud noises such as honking horns, door slamming, radios playing and yelling.
  • Keep pets at home.
  • Use binoculars or spotting scopes.
  • Don’t do anything to try to make the bird fly.
  • Respect private property and avoid restricted areas.

Find a hurt eagle or bad nest?
Call the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Cortland office at 607-753-3095 or the Syracuse office at 315-420-7400.
Source: State Department of Environmental Conservation

Crocoll said the increase in the bird is due in part to the DEC’s eagle program, which helped breed eagles after indiscriminate killing, increased competition for food and the use of DDT— a harmful pesticide- killed off all but one known bald eagle nest in the state. The number of eagles visiting in the winter had decreased to almost a dozen as well.

DDT was banned nationally in 1972, it became illegal to kill bald eagles in 1973 and the state’s Endangered Species Program began in 1976, “bringing a dramatic turnaround for our national symbol,” the DEC website states.

Between 1976 and 1988, biologists collected 198 nestling bald eagles, most of them from Alaska as part of New York’s Bald Eagle Restoration Project. The eaglets were spread across the state and given food as they acclimated to the new environment, when they were released.

Crocoll said the DEC doesn’t have an exact number of how many eagles are in the state, but estimates more than 170 pairs.

Photos provided by Robin Randolph-Quail

Two eagles are spotted in August in Homer by Marathon resident Robin Randolph-Quail. State officials said the eagle population has increased over the past 50 years. There are three pairs of breeders in Cortland County.

Cornell University ornithologist Kevin McGowan said the eagles are in Tompkins County, too.

“My son told me yesterday (Sunday) was a good migration day and he was seeing young bald eagles all over the place,” he said. “The big picture is the eagles have come back spectacularly from the ‘50s and the ‘60s. They’re not rare anymore.”

Crocoll said eagles are even staying year-round and are no longer just in the forest, but venturing into suburban and even urban areas such as New York City.

However, all the eagles have a slight affect on other large birds, such as herons, McGowan said. He noted a research paper that found other large bird populations are slightly decreasing because of eagles. He did not specify why, but eagles are at the top of the food chain and other birds do not usually mess with eagles.

Either way the more eagles the merrier for Randolph-Quail.

“The eagles are definitely making a comeback and I love it,” she said.