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Eagle versus Osprey, a battle for prime real estate in Orleans

bald eagle
Mark Faherty

The eagle has landed. Or rather, the Osprey has landed, and he found an eagle squatting in his nest. Now what? A couple of months ago I covered the topic of Bald Eagles hanging out on Osprey nests around here during the winter. The question always was, what happens when the Osprey comes back? Do they hire a real estate attorney? Well, an early Osprey returned last week to find eagles in his nest. We now have a very public example of this entertaining bit of Wild America playing out right next to route 6 in Orleans.

The disputed nest is atop a tall pole next to Cedar Pond in Orleans. You know where this is even if you don’t recognize the name of the pond – it’s the one right before you get to the Orleans rotary on route six, the one crossed by power lines. You may have read about it back when there were so many cormorants on the wires that Eversource eventually had to move the wires, at great expense, because town officials felt they were pooping in the water too much. This always seemed like an odd accusation against a colonial waterbird – it is what they do after all. Are we concerned that fish are pooping in the water too much as well? What about those whales? Now that is some serious pooping.

But I digress. People had noticed a pair of Bald Eagles occupying, and even sprucing up this well-known Osprey nest starting back in January. Some posted photos showing they were moving sticks around, which made it seem like they were pretty serious, so a lot of us were curious how this would play out. The male Osprey who lays claim to this nest has been the earliest returning Cape Osprey a few years in a row, arriving as early as March 1, a full two weeks before we usually expect the first Osprey here on the Cape. He was a little late this year by his standards, arriving last Thursday, the 9th. People immediately saw him dive bombing the intruding eagles.

The reports continued on Friday, and I saw it for myself that afternoon – a single eagle sitting defiantly in the nest as the Osprey repeatedly swooped within a foot or two, talons blazing. The other eagle may have been nearby, but I just saw the one. I got some distant, backlit photos of the dramatic events, ones you will never see in National Geographic.

Mark Faherty

On Sunday, I checked on the nest a couple of times, forcing my kids to watch too, and both times it was the same – one eagle sitting on the nest while the Osprey perched dejectedly some distance away, or screamed and divebombed the eagle, but never actually struck it. At that point the eagles had been coming and going from the nest for several days, with impunity, despite the many sorties by the angry Osprey. As we watched, the eagle lumbered off once more. Then, as the kids and I were driving away, I noticed both eagles soaring together just south of the pond. We gave chase in the car, eyes to the sky, and eventually lost track of them as they continued west towards Brewster.

I’m not aware of any sightings of the eagles since then. Could we have witnessed the Osprey’s victory? What will the eagles do next? They clearly didn’t have eggs, so I wasn’t sure why they were so determined to stay in the first place. I expected the Osprey would reclaim the nest once the female returned — the ladies are always a few to several days behind the males — but perhaps the male handled it himself.

But you shouldn’t take my word for it — go find this nest and see for yourself if the eagles gave up. You’ll have no problem finding it — it’s the one with all the real estate attorneys hanging out underneath.

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.