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A Bald Eagle Nest Is Confirmed on Cape Cod

jerrygabby1 / flickr

After years of teases, of leads that didn’t pan out, failed attempts and clues gone cold, the news I’ve been waiting for has finally broken. At last, we have “smoking gun” evidence of a legitimate Bald Eagle nest here on Cape Cod, one with a real live baby eagle in it. The eagle has indeed landed. And if you want to know where the nest is, listen all the way to the end for the big reveal.

Apparently, the last Bald Eagle nest in Massachusetts, back when they went locally extinct in 1905, was in Sandwich. But here almost 30 years into the recovery of Bald Eagles in Massachusetts, a pair had yet to successfully breed again on the Cape. Not far away, Plymouth and Lakeville have had nests for many years, but nothing here - Massachusetts eagles were choosing to take their talons elsewhere.

The hints were strong – adult eagles were increasingly being seen at the right places and times – Mashpee-Wakeby Pond, the heavily wooded Brewster-Harwich ponds, even Lake Wequaquet in Hyannis, all during late winter. Like Great Horned Owls, these big, hardy birds lay eggs during the frozen days of January and February when many of our other local birds are still deep in Central or South America. 

One feckless, undoubtedly young pair of eagles took over an Osprey nest on some powerlines in Brewster several years back, only to cede it back to the rightful owners come March. Similarly, eagles taking over an Osprey nest on Martha’s Vineyard this winter created a lot of local excitement, but they ended up accidentally cracking the eggs in the course of battling with the returning Osprey.

Weirdly, a pair built a shabby nest in an uncharacteristically small tree at the Brewster landfill last year, but nothing ever came of it. Years of sightings of adult birds at Mashpee-Wakeby have proven fruitless – I suspect a well-hidden nest, built years ago, has still yet to be discovered. It’s hard to believe that birds with a nest the width and weight of a Volkswagen could hide it for so long, but big woods can keep big secrets.

Then a couple of months ago, someone posted a Facebook photo of an adult eagle grabbing something from a grassy field. The poster insisted it was carrying prey, but it was clearly carrying nest material. But where was the nest? How far will they go in search of building materials? An eagle nest may ultimately contain more than two tons of sticks and other stuff, so they probably need to look far and wide.

Recently I got the news – Mass Wildlife had the location of the nest, though I still don’t know who initially found it. More recently, Cape Cod Community College student and Mass Audubon Long Pasture volunteer Josh Maloney independently found the nest and began photographing it, and one fortuitous photo revealed a good-sized chick craning it’s fuzzy brown neck above the rim of the nest. The first successful modern nest of a Bald Eagle on Cape Cod was thus confirmed.

It’s good to have them back – people love eagles and are often blown away to learn we have any at all around here. Ospreys, I suspect, are less enthused. Just this past weekend, my son and I were at a small pond in the woods of Brewster, where we watched a three or four year old Bald Eagle positively torpedo an Osprey midair, taking his fish in the process. But Ospreys will have to get used to it, because eagles are back.

I promised to reveal the nest location if you listened to the end, which I know isn’t always easy. So here you go: the nest is in….a pine tree. Good luck!

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.