My first sighting of a bald eagle on Long Island came during the fall of 2005 — in Napeague Harbor, Amagansett. The bird was a juvenile, as indicated by its dark plumage and white underwing feathers. It was soaring from the vicinity of Hither Hills State Park in Montauk toward Promised Land in Amagansett.
With its nearly seven-foot wing span, the bird effortlessly glided over and landed on the remnants of a chimney stack from a once-active fish factory on Hicks Island in Napeague Bay. My colleagues and I were provided with a quick glimpse of the majestic raptor before it took flight and disappeared toward Gardiners Island. I would soon learn that it was a significant sighting.
In December 2006, during the annual Montauk Christmas Bird Count on Gardiners Island, Mary Laura and Eric Lamont encountered a large tree nest with a pair of adult eagles nearby. In the years after that initial sighting, and after surveying the same territory for the CBC, they observed the same nest being used by bald eagles. This observation provided sufficient evidence and confirmed that this location had become the first bald eagle nest on Long Island in 76 years.
The birds’ absence from Long Island for all those years is mainly due to the spraying of the pesticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, which is better known as DDT. When DDT enters the ecosystem, it accumulates in the fatty tissues of many organisms. The concentration of DDT increases as you move up the food chain through predator/prey interactions. As apex predators, the bald eagles absorbed high amounts of this chemical, which inhibited their ability to produce eggs with thick shells, leading to crushed eggs during the incubation process.
In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a ban on DDT spraying based on its harmful effects on the environment and risk to human health.
Since the discovery of the Gardiners Island nest, there have been several other confirmed bald eagle nesting sites on Long Island. One was found along the Carmans River at the Wertheim Wildlife Refuge in 2013. Another was discovered 2014 at the Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island, and one at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River. Yet another has been found in the Connetquot River Preserve in Oakdale. A nest was found at Centerport’s Mill Pond in 2017 and most recently one was sighted in East Hampton’s Accabonac Harbor.
These recent sightings, along with other nests not yet seen or confirmed, are an indication that these eagles have landed and are calling Long Island home once again.
Frank Quevedo is the executive director of the South Fork Natural History Museum.