Resurgent bald eagles enjoy Massachusetts winter

Fri Mar 19, 2010 5:03pm EDT
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By Ros Krasny

NEWBURYPORT, Mass (Reuters Life!) - On a recent frigid morning, winds howling in from the west, David Weaver peered through binoculars over the Merrimack River in Massachusetts, scanning for an icon: the American bald eagle.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus, America's national bird, is frequently seen in winter in the Joppa Flats area, where the Merrimack widens and meets the churning Atlantic Ocean after a brisk, 110-mile (177-km) journey from Franklin, New Hampshire.

Frozen water upstream pushes the birds toward the coast in search of food. Two pairs also nest in the area, where their eggs typically hatch in late April.

"There's no greater thrill for me than to get somebody behind a telescope with an eagle in it," said Weaver, 71, a retired wildlife biologist.

Some 2,000 visitors, a record, attended the fifth annual Merrimack River Eagle Festival in February at Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center and its friendly rival, the Parker River National Wildlife Center.

The festival owes its existence to the 34 years that the birds spent on the federal Endangered Species List.

Bald eagles, which appear on the Seal of the President of the United States, became one of only a handful of species to fight back from the verge of extinction.

The giant birds of prey, with a wingspan of up to eight feet, are found throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico.   Continued...