Warm weather keeps eagles out of Mass.


BELCHERTOWN, Mass. (AP) – Marion Larson showed up at the Quabbin Reservoir early Friday morning with everything one could possibly need for the state’s annual mid-minter bald eagle count: binoculars, a telescope and long underwear.

But with the temperature around 50 degrees at 8:30, there was little use for any of the equipment. The unusually warm weather this winter has taken away the need for eagles to flock to Massachusetts.

The eagles feed on fish, and when smaller lakes and streams freeze in northern New England, the birds usually fly down to large waterways like the Quabbin, where there isn’t a lot of ice to keep them from their food.

“The birds that consider us Florida have no need to come to Florida because there’s no ice in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine,” said Larson, a division outreach coordinator for MassWildlife, the state environmental agency that’s been conducting the eagle surveys each January since 1979.

“This is definitely the warmest count day we’ve ever had,” she said.

William Babcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, said the high temperature for nearby Worcester was 56 degrees on Friday, a staggering 24 degrees above average and just two degrees short of breaking 1950’s record high. Weekend temperatures were expected to climb into the 60s.

The eagles weren’t all that was missing. The dozens of birders who in the past have braved subzero temperatures and snow were nowhere to be found Friday morning, most likely knowing it was too warm to spot many eagles.

After about two hours of standing vigil over the waterway, all Larson counted were nine deer, a flock of finches, one crow and a single gull.

Her luck improved slightly. By day’s end, she spotted two. Observers around the state had more luck, reporting that at least 47 bald eagles and one golden eagle were spotted during the day.

MassWildlife’s census is part of a national survey of bald eagles. Last year, 52 were spotted in Massachusetts. The state’s all-time high came in 2005, when 75 were spotted.

Although the birds have been taken off the federal endangered species list and are now classified as threatened, Massachusetts still considers them endangered.

“It’s a good sign that they’re moving off endangered lists,” Larson said. “That’s a testament to good conservation.”

MassWildlife launched its eagle restoration program in 1982, shortly after only eight of the birds were spotted in Massachusetts.

For the next six years, eaglet chicks were taken from wild nests in Canada and raised in cages overlooking the Quabbin. When the birds were old enough to fly, they considered the Quabbin their home and began making their own nests in the region.

Since 1989, eagles have made 25 nesting territories across the state, and 226 chicks have fledged since then.