Shelter Island’s Mashomack Preserve is home to a pair of nesting bald eagles — attention, men, both males and females share the nesting responsibilities — and within weeks, could hatch two young eagles.
In early March, Mashomack’s natural resources manager Mike Scheibel spotted a nest high in an oak tree in a remote area of the preserve and this week, Nature Conservancy staffer Derek Rogers was able to get pictures that confirmed the incubation period that typically lasts 35 days is under way. Usually, bald eagles incubate two eggs at a time, Mr. Scheibel said.
“The fact that bald eagles are nesting at Mashomack speaks to the value of preserved land and its significance to wildlife,” said Mashomack Preserve Director Mike Laspia. “We couldn’t be happier that our national bird is gracing us with its presence and we hope this majestic species has a successful season rearing its young here,” he said.
The bald eagle is the only eagle unique to North America.
Bald eagles have been sighted on Shelter Island in the past 18 months to two years, Mr. Scheibel said. But this is the first time a nesting site has been found here.
The birds are “very sensitive to human disturbance” and because the nest is in a remote area of Mashomack Preserve, it will be possible to keep hikers away, Mr. Scheibel said.
Once the eggs hatch, the young eagles typically stay with their parents for about 12 weeks before they’re ready to make their own way in the world. Unlike today’s human species, the eagles don’t typically return to their parents’ home.
But that isn’t to say that they won’t settle in on Shelter Island.
“Food source is nearly everything,” Mr. Scheibel said. The birds tend to be scavengers, feasting on dead fish washed up on the beach or stolen from ospreys, he said. But they aren’t adverse to picking up live fish from surrounding water and, as adults, they have the ability to pick up mammals of up to about four pounds to add to their meals.
“Decades ago, protecting land was enough to ensure the survival and viability of our local wildlife,” said Nancy Kelley, executive director of The Nature Conservancy, which purchased Mashomack Preserve 34 years ago to block development of the area.
Today, water quality — avoiding nitrogen pollution of the waters — is equally critical to the survival of wildlife here, she said.
While humans tend to think of birds living in nests, that’s not the case, Mr. Scheibel said. The nest is used to incubate and raise the young, but at other times, the birds will be seen in trees where there is no nest, he said.
The other major determinant about the future of the bald eagles here is the presence of predators — primarily raccoons and owls, Mr. Scheibel said.
Will the birds fly south in the winter and return here? That’s possible, Mr. Scheibel said. In Alaska, the birds tend to travel a bit south, while those in Florida tend to stay where they are, so it remains to be seen what the birds here will do, he said.