Eyes on eagles

The OBSERVER has received a number of reports about bald eagles in the harbor area and in the area of the lighthouse. Some people have reported large numbers of these birds, while others were excited to see a few.

The Lake Erie Bird Club’s report, on Page A8 today, noted in its recent meeting on Feb. 16 about 40 bald eagles were observed around the harbor.

The birds can be observed flying over the harbor or sitting on the ice. They have also been seen in the area between the lighthouse and the power plant.

John Ruska, retired guidance counselor from Dunkirk High School and president of the Lake Erie Bird Club, was contacted to see if he knew someone who had a good picture of the eagles. He was going to go for a look at the birds around the lake Tuesday, but said he did not have any good pictures in his files and wasn’t sure if he would get a good picture.

Pictures are harder to come by than reports because a bald eagle isn’t likely to pose and certainly not for a group shot. It’s hard to get close to them. There is a reason birders use binoculars.

Ruska suggested contacting retired postal worker and bird club member Bob Peterson. He remembered Peterson had a picture of a number of eagles in the harbor area that was from a previous winter.

Peterson said, “The photo dates back a few years. During the winter, it is not unusual for more eagles to be in the area.”

Although modestly protesting his photo wasn’t that good, he emailed it to us. He also said that the club has a list serve for people to post information about the latest sightings. Member Gale VerHague had posted even more recent information.

VerHague reported on Monday, she and two companions were able to count 53 bald eagles in Dunkirk from around the harbor and out to the lighthouse at Point Gratiot. She had a number of pictures, although she too protested that they weren’t very good.

She reported, “They (the eagles) are feasting on the carcasses of hundreds of waterfowl that froze to death in the cold. The group behind the power plant also appears to have live ducks trapped in a small opening of water. It was very said to walk near the boat slips at Bart’s Cove to see so many individual birds frozen in place like statues.”

Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology’s web site gives good information about how to identify the birds. (www.allaboutbirds.org). One interesting item is until the birds reach adulthood at about five years, their coloration features mostly dark heads and tails. The juveniles have brown bodies that are mottled with white in varying amounts. So not all birds visible will be the more well-known adult eagle.

The web site also states that winter is a good time to see bald eagles since they are common at large bodies of water during the winter. The bird is termed an “opportunistic” feeder. They swoop down to catch fish, but also will feed on mammals, gulls, and waterfowl. They, like their relatives the vultures, also feed on carrion.

The national bird and national animal, the Bald Eagle was on the endangered species list, but was removed from the list in 1995 and reclassified as threatened. In 2007, it was removed from the list entirely in the lower 48 states.

Winer is a good time to birdwatch around the lake. The Lake Erie Bird Club lists its programs and activities in the OBSERVER and welcomes new members. More information is available at 673-1627.