May 5, 2023
The Eagles Have Landed … Safely
Their resurgence here is the real environmental success story
By Mike O’Connor
I think just about everyone around here is familiar with the faceoff that took place earlier this spring between a pair of bald eagles and a very determined male osprey. The confrontation created such a buzz that even off-Cape media outlets reported it. The excitement of the dueling birds gave Boston Globe readers a nice break from those endless stories about delays on the Green Line or Tom Brady’s annual retirement.
For anyone who somehow missed the details of this epic avian battle, here’s a quick recap. For the last few years, a pair of ospreys have routinely raised a family on a platform that sits high above Cedar Pond in Orleans. Even if you think you don’t know where Cedar Pond is, I’m pretty sure you do. It’s the pond just west of the Orleans rotary where flocks of cormorants once gathered on summer evenings. (Remember those large black birds lined up by the hundreds on the power lines just above the water? That’s Cedar Pond.)
Last January, while most of the Cape’s ospreys were enjoying their winter in South America, a pair of eagles decided the unoccupied nest platform would be just right for them. Our observant customers came in to tell us about the eagle activity and we all rushed out to see if the story was true. It was. The questions everyone soon asked were: What’s going to happen in March when the ospreys return, and who is going to win the battle over the nest site? These were both good questions and when March came around we found out the answers — and so did the eagles.
Bald eagles are our national bird for good reasons. They are huge, majestic, and command attention everywhere they go. They also outweigh ospreys by nearly 300 percent. You would think a pair of eagles would have little trouble fending off a smaller attacker like an osprey.
Well, think again. I was out of town during the famous skirmish, but I saw several photos of the somewhat undersized bird, with its talons fully extended, diving on the larger couple. The eagles learned that the traditional rule of finders keepers doesn’t apply to last year’s nest site. This male osprey, which arrived a week or so before his mate did, was giving the eagles all they could handle, and the clash would most certainly tilt in his favor when the female (which is larger) eventually arrived to join the conflict.
The eagles, deciding they didn’t need the hassle, eventually threw in the towel and moved on. It was a victory for the little guy, but a sad day for the eagles. They haven’t successfully nested on the Outer Cape in forever and maybe longer. Now, no sooner than we had some hope, they were gone. Or were they?
A few weeks after The Battle for Cedar Pond ended, someone told me that the eagles had been seen on a less-guarded nest platform not too far from their previous lodgings. Acting on her hot tip, I grabbed my binoculars and headed to the location. Her intel was spot on. After a short walk, I could see a male eagle sitting proudly on top of a pitch pine; below was his mate, sitting even more proudly on a nest full of eggs. The Outer Cape has its first very bald eagle nest. Wahoo!
So, where is this nest, you ask. Sorry, kids. Due to the crowds the nest would attract, MassWildlife asks us to keep stuff like this secret. In this case, however, the word is spreading anyhow. The location is becoming a “Liberace secret.” Everybody knows — we just aren’t allowed to say it out loud. But I will tell you that the nest is on a small island in the town of Orleans or maybe in Eastham, or maybe neither. There — that should keep me out of jail for a while.
With all this drama going on over nest sites we shouldn’t forget that the resurgence of both bald eagles and ospreys is the real story. When I first started watching birds there were only a handful of ospreys in the entire state and there were zero eagles. To have both birds breeding not far from our back door is very cool and a major environmental success story. I’m not sure if the Globe covered how this event finally turned out. If you have any friends in Boston, please pass the word on to them, although they still might be stuck on the Green Line.