Young Bald Eagle Spotted in Montauk

A tagged bald eaglet was spotted at the Montauk County Park on the Fourth of July. Charles Schell

On July 4, Charles Schell got a patriotic surprise when he spotted a bald eaglet at Montauk County Park. After photographing the bird, which had a band with the letters “M.B.” around one of her legs, Mr. Schell contacted the Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, Va.

Reese Lukei Jr., a research associate with the center who banded the eaglet, said the organization “the organization was just really glad to get the pictures.” Only three weeks before Mr. Schell’s sighting, the female juvenile, now called MB, was found on the corner of a busy street in Norfolk. Pearl Beamer, a wildlife rehabilitator, was called to observe the bird and, later, to care for her when she was spotted on the ground again and ushered into a garage.

“Juvenile bald eagles are pretty clumsy at first,” Mr. Lukei explained. “It takes a few days after leaving the nest to build up their stamina and fly long distances.”

M.B. had issues other than the usual lack of coordination and strength, though. Mrs. Beamer discovered that she was underweight and afflicted by feather mites, a potentially lethal parasitic skin infestation.

After receiving expert care from Sacred Friends Inc., M.B. was tagged and released into the wild on June 12 at Ocean View Elementary School. Not even a month later, she had made it all the way to the end of Long Island, where she seems to be staying for the moment. Mr. Lukei said that Mr. Schell, who has been in contact with him about the eaglet, has now spotted her three times at Montauk County Park.

There have been other sightings as well. M.B. is not a white-capped, yellow-eyed, brown-bodied lady. Like all young bald eagles, she is covered entirely in juvenile feathers, which are mottled and brown. She does have the characteristic yellow talons, but her beak is black, her eyes are brown, and her tail is dark. Her physical characteristics will gradually change over the next five years.

Sightings like Mr. Schell’s were extremely rare in the Mid-Atlantic region only 40 years ago. According to Mr. Lukei, American bald eagle populations have been on the rise thanks to greater public awareness, the discontinuation of the use of DDT and other chemicals, and the heightened role of agencies in protecting their habitats.

“In Virginia in the early 1970s, a survey was done that said there were only 30 breeding pairs. Now there are 800.” Though Mr. Lukei could not provide exact numbers for Long Island, he did say that this trend is consistent along the eastern seaboard. Adult bald eagles have been spotted locally, and a nesting pair was recorded last year on Shelter Island.


Charles Schell