By Leah Santacroce (Group for the East End intern)
Bald Eagles have long been a symbol of freedom in America, but finding a safe place to nest has been a struggle for these great birds. The eagles are accustomed to large, unpopulated, coastal wetland areas and are sensitive to human activity. Consequently, Bald Eagles are rarely seen on populous Long Island. This is why East Enders were elated to learn that in early March, a pair of Bald Eagles were spotted nesting in an oak tree in the Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island. Eagle sightings have occurred in the area before, but this is the first time a nesting site has been found. This is a very positive sign for both the birds and the town. Bald Eagles rely on fish as their main source of food, so the fact that they have taken up permanent residence suggests a healthy food supply on the East End.
When European settlers first came to America, the number of Bald Eagles was close to half a million. As competition with humans for food and resources became fierce, their numbers began to dwindle. Efforts were made to reverse the damage in 1940 with the Bald Eagle Act, but around the same time people began to widely use DDT. This toxic pesticide harmed smaller organisms that the eagles, being on the top of the food chain, consumed. The use of chemicals combined with the deliberate killing of the birds done by many Americans caused the federal government to place them on the endangered species list in 1967. The efforts of the government and conservationists have paid off, because in 1995 their status was downgraded to “threatened.” Even more recently, they have been regarded as “being of special concern.” The efforts to save the Bald Eagle and other wildlife have been helped by the Nature Conservancy, who purchased the Mashomack preserve in the 1980’s to protect the osprey. The fact that Bald Eagles have now been able to use this land as well, speaks to the value and benefit of a healthy, preserved habitat.