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Eagles and Ospreys

David Larson

If you found yourself heading out to the hinterlands of Outer Cape Cod in the last week, your eagle eyes may have noticed some hulking shapes atop one of the Osprey nests by the Orleans rotary, the ones in the powerlines that cross Cedar Pond. Did the Ospreys hear that winter never set in and decide to return early? Or are gulls just way bigger than you realized? No, those big birds are in fact a pair of adult Bald Eagles, and they are the latest examples of a housing market trend I have been noting for a few years – eagles squatting in Osprey nests.

Overall it’s been a quiet winter for Bald Eagles around here, probably because it’s been so warm, keeping many birds further north. But some have been in place on bigger ponds, like Long Pond in Harwich, the big kettle ponds of Wellfleet, and Mashpee-Wakeby Pond. The latter pond is where hundreds of their favorite winter food, American Coots, can be found bobbing about like so much eagle popcorn. These are the expected places to see eagles – but on an Osprey pole behind Wendy’s in Orleans? Not so much. But I have been telling you all to expect more of this kind of pole squatting.

At other times I’ve told the tale of the ill-fated Bald Eagles who usurped an Osprey nest on Martha’s Vineyard. They had a good run, even laid eggs, but the Ospreys eventually came back, talons blazing, and the eggs were broken in the ensuing fight. Some version of this result is typical – though smaller, Ospreys have mostly been able to drive away Bald Eagles that try to take over their nests. That’s happened in Brewster, Lakeville, and other places. The one place I know where the eagles successfully took over an Osprey nest is in Wareham, so it can be done.

Though many people have reported them to me, I have not personally seen these Orleans eagles as I’ve been housebound most of the last week with an obscure virus called Covid. But the rest of my family saw them last Wednesday – I got an excited call from my wife as soon as she saw them, and she later even had a dream about eagle nests. I’m usually the only one dreaming about birds around here, but such is the effect that eagles can have on even non-birders.

They’ve been around for most of a week, and both are clearly adults, which raises the big question – will they actually attempt to nest? I’ve been fooled before- last year I saw a pair of adult eagles at an Osprey nest in Barnstable right around this time, and started telling people there might be a new eagle nest, only they never returned – it was like they had just been stopping by an open house. But these two in Orleans have actually been seen actually shifting some sticks around, which may mean they will, uh, stick around. Although the female was heard saying she thought the kitchen was “dated”, so you never know.

I think the eagles are just looking for their own solution to the housing crisis. After all, there is a lot of “underutilized” real estate around here in the winter. However this turns out, the eagles will definitely owe the Ospreys some money - a temporary stay in someone else’s house atop a 40-foot pole clearly qualifies as a stay in an AirBnb.

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.