Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

December 2016

Vol. 44, No. 6

The History of Bald Eagle Decline and Recovery in Massachusetts

Tom French


First flight of a young Bald Eagle from the hack tower at Quabbin Reservoir in 1983. All photographs by Bill Byrne unless otherwise indicated.

No one really knows how common the Bald Eagle was in Massachusetts at the time of early European colonization. The first author to describe the early fauna of Massachusetts was Josslyn (1672), but he made no mention of eagles. Nesting had not been documented in the state for nearly 200 years when Allen (1864) reported that eagles had nested at Mount Tom, though it is more likely that they actually nested along the Connecticut River adjacent to Mount Tom, as they do today. Other nest sites reported from the 1800s included locations in Beverly (Anon. 1864), Cheshire (Faxon and Hoffmann 1900), Sunderland on Mount Toby (Stearns 1884), and Winchendon in 1887 (Howe and Allen 1901). The last generally accepted nest record was at Bear Hollow near Snake Pond, Sandwich (1900–1905, Hill 1965). In his Sportsman’s Scrapbook, John Phillips (1928) reported “… it should be recorded that Eagle Hill or Agawam River twenty-five years ago (about 1903) was a veritable resort for these great birds. On a fine morning in May or June when the alewives were well on the run, we could see from the camp door two or three, sometimes as many as five or six huge eagles sitting on the bare branches of a great dead white pine about a quarter of a mile up the stream. … But now that the alewives have failed to run as they used to on the Agawam, eagles have gone elsewhere, and one of the striking sights of that lovely river has passed forever.” Bagg and Eliot (1937) reported later dates for nesting pairs in Brookfield near High Rocks (1908–1920), Colrain (1930s), and Conway (1930s). While these reports were based on the presence of adults in the spring and summer when they should be on their breeding territories, and in Brookfield over a period of 12 years, no nests were ever located.

To view the rest of the article you'll need to subscribe. Bird Observer publishes original articles on birding locations, on avian populations and natural history, on regional rarities, and field notes, Massachusetts field records, photographs, and art work.