An American bald eagle ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Eagles battle



Two friends noticed a fierce battle going on in the skies over a local blueberry field near their home this week. Two adult eagles were fighting fiercely and not holding back in any way. The snow was decorated with their blood. With the help of an ever-present cell phone, they were able to film the battle, and I got to see it. It was very impressive! It could have ended in death for either one or both of the birds, but in this case, they flew off after they became worn out from the battle. You can see such action on the computer if you look up eagle conflicts or territorial fights. Keep an eye on the skies these days, and you may see the real thing. We have many eagles flying over Mount Desert Island since they nest here and live here year-round.

These beautiful birds are so regal and handsome in their adult plumage that such fights are hard to imagine. Sometimes, in courtship, a pair will look as if they are fighting as they lock talons and spiral down towards the ground only to break apart at the last minute. Sometimes, they actually copulate in the air.

It is often hard to tell when such gyrations of eagles in the air are courtship or aggression. Most courtship of these handsome birds sharing the island with us occurs early in the spring. Eagles tend to use the same nest year after year until it is no longer useable. It takes a strong tree to hold an eagle’s nest, for the nest is heavy and big.

The eagle usually picks the crotch of a sturdy tree, for its nest will weigh a lot. Each year, the eagles add to the nest and make improvements. Nest building seems to help maintain the pair bond. Eagles mate for life. Eagles don’t seem to care for manmade nesting platforms as ospreys do. When ospreys are abundant in some areas, manmade poles with platforms have been put up to keep the birds from nesting on utility poles, and this effort has been very successful. When I visited a friend on Ram island in New York, many such poles had been put up along the highways, and it always was interesting and fun to see an osprey parent peering down at the cars going by below them. If you walked near the nest and got too close, the parent birds screamed at you, and if you didn’t heed the warning, they dove at you. Not getting too close and definitely heeding their warnings was the way to behave around an osprey nest. Always be polite around nesting birds. Don’t get too close and disturb them.

Eagles will feed along with other birds if they find a dead seal or big fish on the shore. The eagle has first choice at the feast, but crows, gulls and some other smaller birds may feed around the fringes and sneak in for a bite and still survive. However, it is the eagle’s feast, and the others know it and the rules they must follow. If a smaller bird gets too daring and too close to the eagle, it may end up as part of the feast.

I have had several reports of woodcocks trying to probe in frozen ground this week. Both humans and wild creatures will be more comfortable when the snow, ice and frigid temperatures leave us and warmer weather arrives. A feeder on Isleford still has a Carolina wren coming to feed daily. This bird is not a common bird here and is usually gone in March. Another sighting was of six male cardinals and four female cardinals at a feeder all at once. What a colorful scene for Maine!

I still see buffleheads in the harbors, and they can be expected to still be around through April and the very first part of May. I never tire of watching them in our harbors. We are in their wintering range, but when they leave here, they fly far to the north and choose wooded lakes and rivers for nesting. Their courtship begins here in January.

An unusual sighting of a fisher was reported and confirmed here on MDI in the last two weeks. This mammal is rarely seen on this island. In a classic booklet about the mammals of MDI written in 1972 it is not even mentioned as a possibility. The animals mentioned in this family were short-tailed weasel, long-tailed weasel, mink, otter and skunk. A revision of Dale Coman’s book now would have to include the fisher.

Fishers, member of the weasel family, have a fierce reputation as killers, but they’re only doing what they are supposed to in the wildlife community. The fishers’ one special claim to fame is that they seek out and kill porcupines. Most other creatures leave them alone because of all the porcupine quills. Fishers are medium-sized mammals about the size of a domestic cat. They are long and thin, and they stay low to the ground. They especially like to eat snowshoe hares and porcupines. I would like to have seen this fisher alive.

Fishers have few predators besides humans. Fishers have been trapped since the 18th century, for their fur is very nice. Between 1900 and 1940, fishers were threatened with near extinction in some areas by over-trapping. Here in New England, they were nearly exterminated by unregulated trapping. In 1914, total protection was given. Since then, habitat recovery and reintroduction of fishers in their original range has helped them. As the old children’s song goes, “All God’s children got a place in the choir.”

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.

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