Bald Eagle Sightings on Smith and Sayles Reservoir

With the ongoing days of snow that have inundated Rhode Island in 2015, it’s difficult to envision other seasons on our lake.  It’s hard to remember the trees heavy with deep green leaves and the skies filled with graceful birds.

But our lake skies were abundant as recently as a month ago with migrating waterfowl, including Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, Wood Ducks, Buffleheads, and (ever pesky) Canada Geese. (If you’d like to see a compilation of recent bird sightings in our area, click through to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island for a wonderful array of pictures and descriptions.)  We are quite fortunate to live in a place where all we have to do is look out our windows and see nature unfold like a movie.

Indeed, our ability to eagle 3view the natural world here on Smith and Sayles Reservoir now includes a species of bird that the American Ornithologist’s Union considers rare in Rhode Island:  the Bald Eagle. Bald eagles have been sighted multiple times on Smith and Sayles Reservoir.  The success of our Association’s conservation efforts over the last few years is embodied in these bald eagles’ ability to thrive here on Smith and Sayles Reservoir.

Despite its official status as the U.S. national emblem, this majestic bird was brought nearly to extinction by habitat destruction and pesticide use.  The bald eagle was listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act until 2007 and is now protected through on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald Eagle Act. Human development along shorelines and near inland waterways remains the single biggest threat to bald eagles, as habitat loss results in fewer areas where foraging, nesting, perching, and roosting can occur.

eagle 10According to the U.S. Environmental Agency, bald eagles’ preferred breeding sites are in forested areas adjacent to water in areas with minimal human disturbance. The bald eagles choose large conifers for nesting, perching, and roosting. Smith and Sayles Reservoir offers a relatively good habitat for bald eagles.  Breeding pairs of bald eagles primarily feed on fish, so our 187 acres helps them to have a fairly large body of water to survey.  The tall pines that hover over the lake from higher slopes provide good views of their territory. Our healthy fish population is a particular draw for the bald eagle.

The pictures on this post were provided by MaryAnn Marino and Sam Hawkes; thanks to you both! A few of the pictures were captured by putting a phone up to the binoculars.

eagle 6This picture shows an eagle on a stump about 100 yards from the Hawkes’ house. According to Sam, “This bald eagle has been around a few years now.”

Our local interest here in bald eagles is shared by many others in Rhode Island.  If you’d like to see a running record of bald eagle sightings in Rhode Island, click here for the Bald Eagle Directory of Rhode Island.

eagle 2With the full ice on Smith and Sayles since early in 2015, it is less likely that we will soon sight the bald eagle.  According to Mike Tucker, who studies bald eagles on Scituate Reservoir, a bald eagle is “an opportunist” when it comes to surviving winter. Known for seizing ducks and gulls resting on the ice, during the winter, “Sightings usually do not indicate that they have interest in nesting in the area. Bald Eagles prefer to stay close to the nest all year, but in areas where freeze-over occurs regularly, they routinely migrate.”

eagle 5We’ll have to wait a month or more until the ice begins to thaw, the holes begin to emerge in the ice, and the fish are more easily accessible for waterfowl and bald eagles alike.

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