(FYI: This column was written back in 2008. Things have changed since then. See the “The Eagles Have Landed, May 5, 2023, for a more recent eagle column.)
Dear Bird Folks,
Back in April, it was announced that a pair of Bald Eagles had built a nest near the landfill in the Town of Brewster. Since then I’ve been looking for updates on the nest, but so far I haven’t found any. Have you heard anything?
– Terry, Eastham, MA
Not a word, Terry,
Like you, I’ve been interested in the progress of the Cape’s first Bald Eagle nest in over a century. For years it was thought our initial eagle nest would be built somewhere around Mashpee, but the recent Brewster discovery has given the Lower Cape bragging rights. The nest was big news and all of the newspapers reported it. But not long after the story broke, things became quiet. I asked around, but no one else had heard anything either. I even spoke to a friend who lives in Brewster. I suggested he check on the eagles whenever he went to the dump (aka, landfill, aka, transfer station), but he kept forgetting. I was annoyed, but I can’t really blame him. Eagles are cool and all, but a trip to the dump is magical. There are so many wonderful things to see and smell, plus the swap shed.
I next searched online, because the internet knows everything (and is never distracted by smells). There was nothing new online either. Although I did find something on the Town of Brewster’s website, which asked us to stay away and not disturb the birds. The notice went on to say that the Town would give eagle updates. They never did. No matter where I looked, I couldn’t find any news. Ironically, last week a woman from Seattle hacked into my Capital One account with very little trouble. Yet, I couldn’t find a thing about birds in the next town. Maybe I should ask her for help.
On Saturday, Stephanie, the hard-working director of Wild Care, showed me some photos of two baby Bald Eagles she was rehabilitating. I wondered if the babies were from Brewster. Nope. They were from off-Cape. I asked if she knew the status of the Brewster birds. She didn’t know, but thought wildlife officials from the State might know and I should contact them. Oh, no. Not the State. Arranging a meeting with the Vatican is easier than trying to get through to the State. There had to be an easier way.
I decided to call Brewster Town Hall for info. I dialed the number (actually, I didn’t “dial” because phones don’t have dials anymore, but you get the picture) and a town employee answered. But as soon as I started speaking, she hung up. What the heck? I think we were accidently disconnected, but it was enough to make me forget about the phone and drive over and ask my questions in person. The first few folks I spoke with knew very little about the eagles, but finally I was able to chat with a very nice and very helpful woman in the Selectmen’s office. She suggested I call the natural resource officer…but wait. He was on vacation (of course). She subsequently suggested I call the DPW, since it’s also located at the dump and near the eagle’s nest. She handed me the number, I thanked her and went right home and “dialed” the number. There was no answer. (Once again, of course.)
While I was waiting for the DPW workers to come back from lunch (there’s an ending to this story, I promise), I called Mass Audubon in Wellfleet. Mark, the guy with Purple Martin poop on his shirt from last week’s column, told me that he had seen the eagles on their nest earlier in the spring, but hasn’t looked for them recently. He also thought the definitive information would have to come from the State. Oh, man. I soooo did not want to call them. Before finally giving in, I gave the Brewster DPW one last chance and this time someone answered. It was Emily and she turned out to be the person I’ve been waiting for all this time. My search for info was over.
Emily answered all of my questions, and I had a lot of them. She confirmed that a pair of mature Bald Eagles (the ones with the white heads) had indeed built a nest at the dump. She had even watched much of the activity from her DPW office window. That’s pretty cool. But unlike Ospreys, which build their nests out in the open, eagle nests tend to be hidden in the middle of tall evergreens. Everyone knew the nest was there, but they couldn’t see inside of it. They had no way of knowing for sure if the eagles had laid eggs or if there were any chicks. In the old days, gathering proof meant that some brave, helmet-wearing individual had to climb up the tree and peer into the nest. Today things are a bit more high tech. Instead of climbing, the biologists sent up a drone. What they found was discouraging. There were no chicks or even signs there ever were any eggs. Sigh.
The big excitement of last spring has turned into a summer disappointment. What went wrong? Why didn’t the eagles lay eggs? Was there too much human activity for the sensitive birds to deal with? Were the birds simply too young to be successful the first time around? No one was sure. Maybe they got tired of the dump smells or perhaps the eagles were too bashful to mate while Emily watched from her office window. (I know I would be.) Whatever the reason, Terry, Cape Cod still doesn’t have any (known) active Bald Eagle nests. I’m sure it’s going to happen one day and when it does, I hope the nest is on the Lower Cape. The Upper Cape is fine, but it’s hard to beat the Lower Cape. We have plenty of tall trees, great habitat and world-class dumps. What else does a Bald Eagle need?