A pair of nesting bald eagles and their eaglet have become stars in a Milford beach neighborhood, where people have been gathering since February to watch nature at work and to watch as a state-endangered species works its way back into the environment.
Lewis Spero of Milford is an avid bird watcher. He has spent considerable time photographing the birds and their nest after spotting a bald eagle fly overhead in February and then locating the nest.
Neighbors have been watching the nest, too, and when the female started to stay home while the male flew off in search of food, the eagle watchers got excited.
“Then one day a little tiny head popped up,” Spero said.
The eaglet fledged about a week ago, meaning it was able to fly from the nest.
According to baldeagleinfo.com, “The young birds grow rapidly. They add one pound to their body weight every four or five days.”
Some 10 to 13 weeks after hatching, the eaglet can take its first flight, the website states.
It’s not just the neighbors who are thrilled these birds have moved in and produced a successful nest.
“We see this as a conservation success story,” said Brian Hess, a wildlife biologist at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
Some local bird enthusiasts have said it’s the first nesting pair of bald eagles in Milford in 70 years, and Hess said that is very likely.
There were a number of years that bald eagles could not be found in the entire state, he said.
The bald eagle went from being common in the early 1700s to extremely rare in the lower 48 states by the 1960s, according to the DEEP website.
“This precipitous decline was due to loss of habitat and nesting trees, food contamination by pesticides, and illegal shooting,” the site states. “Contamination of food by the organochlorine pesticide DDT is widely accepted as a major reason why populations of eagles, along with many other raptor species, declined in the mid-20th Century.”
DDT accumulated in the food chain and, when contaminated food was ingested by eagles, it caused them to lay eggs with weakened shells that cracked when the birds incubated their eggs. Eagle populations across the country were decimated, according to the DEEP. General use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1972.
“The bald eagle was first declared an endangered species with the passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973,” according to the DEEP website. “Populations eventually began to recover due to the ban on DDT use, successful reintroduction programs of fostered chicks and fledglings, and habitat and nest protection measures.”
Hess said bald eagles were not seen in Connecticut from the 1950s until 1992, when a pair successfully nested in Litchfield County and raised two young.
The entire Milford neighborhood where the eagles built their nest has become actively involved in protecting the birds, limiting human interference at the site. Hess said the city and the United Illuminating Co. have also helped. The UI halted work nearby to allow the eaglet to grow up without being disturbed.
Bald eagles aren’t just the national symbol, they are also a good environmental health marker.
“If they’re doing well, you can make inferences on other parts of the environment,” Hess said.
It’s very likely this pair of bald eagles will return every year to the same nest. Hess expects they will leave the nest in six weeks or so to look for more open waters, after the eaglet has mastered flying and hunting.
The eaglet will leave too — but on its own. It may try to return to the Milford nest after the winter months, but it won’t be welcome by the parents.
“It will be on its own,” Hess said.