A Bald Eagle Nest Has Been Found in Cape Cod for the First Time in Over a Century, Officials Confirm

The first bald eagle nest with eggs has been discovered in Cape Cod for the first time in 115 years, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) has confirmed.

The last known nest on the Cape—a coastal peninsula in the east of the state—was documented in the town of Sandwich in 1905, according to the DFW. Wildlife officials found the newly identified nest in the town of Barnstable, which lies more than 10 miles southeast of Sandwich.

It is currently nesting season for bald eagles and the DFW has already documented more than 70 active eagle nests throughout Massachusetts this spring, representing a spike in numbers.

bald eagle nest
A bald eagle nest in Rutland, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

"MassWildlife has seen a dramatic uptick in newly documented eagle nests this year and has confirmed nine new nests in Fitchburg, Wenham, Concord, Rutland, Wareham, Medford, Northampton, Hudson, and Barnstable," the DFW said in a statement.

The increase in new nests indicates that the bald eagle population in the state is growing, officials said. But while this is welcome news, the growth also brings certain challenges as eagle pairs try to establish new territories.

For example, wildlife officials documented the first case of eagles nesting on Martha's Vineyard—an island that lies just to the south of Cape Cod—this spring. Here, an eagle pair took over the nest of an osprey—another bird of prey sometimes referred to as a sea hawk, river hawk, or fish hawk—and began incubating eggs there. But when the ospreys returned, a struggle ensued.

"The osprey pair that most likely built the nest harassed the incubating eagle who would flip upside down with its talons in the air in defense," the DFW said. "Eventually the eagle cracked the eggs doing this, and this historic nesting attempt failed. Two other eagle nests on the mainland have also failed as a result of an intruding eagle invading the territory and killing the chicks in the nest.

"Although difficult for observers to witness, these events are all signs of a thriving eagle population in Massachusetts. On the upside, more and more people across the Commonwealth are experiencing the thrill of seeing eagles in their own neighborhoods as these birds continue to expand their range to urban and suburban landscape."

As of 2018, the DFW had identified 76 territorial pairs of bald eagles in Massachusetts. When the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act was introduced 30 years ago, the bald eagle was initially listed as "endangered" in the state.

However, successful conservation measures have enabled the population to rebound. In 2008, the species was downgraded to "threatened" and in January this year it fell down another notch and is now classified as simply a species of "special concern."

The eagle was on the brink of being wiped out in the contiguous United States in the late 20th century. However, officials removed the bird from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife for the lower 48 states in 2007.

Bald eagles are the national bird of the U.S. and the largest bird of prey in the state of Massachusetts. They can be found across vast swathes of North America, with their range spanning from Alaska and Canada right down to Florida and northern Mexico

Known scientifically as Haliaeetus leucocephalus, the bald eagle measures around three feet in length with a seven-foot wingspan, and weighs between eight and 15 pounds.

Bald eagles build the largest nests of any bird in North America, and the species holds the record for the largest's bird's nest ever recorded, according to Guinness World Records. The nest spotted near St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1963 measured nine feet, six inches wide and 20 feet deep, and was estimated to weigh more than 4,400 pounds.

After courting over the winter, mating pairs build the tree nests in December-February using large sticks, lined with sprigs of pine, grasses and other soft materials, according to the DFW. Once the birds have chosen a nesting site, they usually return every year, adding to the existing structure.