Dear Bird Folks,
Last fall, a pair of golden eagles were seen courting near the Marconi site in South Wellfleet. Do you know if they have returned and, if so, do you think they will nest?
– Bill, Wellfleet
The news of the golden eagles last year is very exciting. A pair was indeed spotted for several weeks last fall performing some pre-mating rituals. The golden eagle is a huge bird, even larger than our national symbol, the bald eagle.
Golden eagles are mostly found out West and not all that often here in the East. In recent years, more and more have been seen in the area around the Quabbin Reservoir in the western part of the state. It was thought that if goldens ever were to nest in Massachusetts, it would be in the vast forests of the Quabbin. But there is no mistaking that the eagles that were seen last fall planned to nest here. Last October they started nest building on the old water tower near the actual Marconi site. If you look from Marconi observation deck, you can see the huge sticks and branches that the birds piled on top of the water tower. The finished nest will be hard to miss, as eagles’ nests can reach more than 6 feet high.
These eagles probably have chosen the Outer Cape over the Quabbin because the dunes and beaches provide open areas for hunting. Our healthy supply of squirrels, rabbits and unsupervised pets will make an endless supply of food for the hungry eaglets. These birds make coyotes seem like vegetarians.
Even though the news of nesting eagles is very exciting, it is not without its problems. Federal law requires that all human activity must cease within a mile radius of a nesting golden eagle. Once these eagles lay eggs, many areas including the White Cedar Swamp trail, Marconi Beach, the Outer Cape Rail Trail and the National Seashore Headquarters will have to close until the young eagles fledge in late September. (And you thought piping plovers were distruptive.)
It appears that the Park Service is taking the eagle nesting seriously for they have made plans to move their headquarters to the abandoned Bradlees building in Orleans. The former Bradlees location is perfect for park employees who will be able to pick up some part-time work at neighboring Stop & Shop where the pay is better.
Even though golden eagles are protected, the mile radius around the nest site is not for the birds’ protection, it is for ours. Eagles can be unbelievably aggressive while nesting. Out West, rock climbers have been knocked off cliffs and ledges when they unknowingly came within a mile of a golden eagle’s nest. With that in mind, the Park cannot take a chance by letting scantily clad beachgoers get too close to an eagle’s talon.
The Park will be forced to close the northern part of Marconi Beach, but is going to try to keep the southern section open. However, for safety reasons, beachgoers will be required to wear “Helio-domes,” a helmet like device that has a spinner on the top of it. Helio-domes have been used successfully for years along the beaches of Lake Tahoe in Nevada, where they have cut down on eagle attacks by 80 percent. The domes look much like the little beanies kids and drunken adults wore in the ’50s. They should make for some great family beach pictures at Marconi this year.
Thanks for bringing this up, Bill. For anyone who enjoys watching birds (or wearing beanies), this is very exciting time. If you get a chance, you should check out the nest. But do it soon before the Park closes the area. The eagles are due back this Monday, April 1.