Experts say new eagle’s nest on shore of Onondaga Lake may be first since 1800


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From the steps of the Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center, located on the shore of Onondaga Lake, you can see the head of a bald eagle just above the top of a tree. The bird is one of a pair of adult eagles that have created a nest near the center, said center manager Sarah Shute.

No eagle nests were seen on the shores of the lake from 1800 to 1977, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Throughout the winter, Shute and Tina Thomas, the attendant at the center, watched the pair of eagles slowly build their nest. Although Shute and Thomas did not see the egg in the nest, they said the parents’ behavior indicates that the egg hatched successfully. However, a photographer captured photos of the eagle, Shute said.

Shute was wary of sharing information regarding eagles, stressing the importance of not disturbing the birds.

“The protection and success of this nest is of the utmost importance,” Shute said. “We ask that people do not come here en masse, that they do not encroach on the space of the eagles.”

Shute said it was extremely important for adults to be able to feed and care for their young.

As the lake sees the return of its first eagle’s nest since 1800, two miles from shore, Onondaga County is supporting the construction of a trail on Murphy’s Island. The Onondaga Audubon, a bird conservation organization, opposed the trail, saying it would disrupt the eagle population near Murphy’s Island.

Murphy’s Island, land adjacent to Destiny USA, attracts up to 100 eagles to the area, the Onondaga Audubon wrote in a document detailing their stance on the proposed trail. The location is mostly isolated from human activity and has tall trees, making it a prime resting place for eagles, the Onondaga Audubon wrote.

But, according to the United States Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, proximity to highways and Destiny USA has helped acclimate the eagles to human activity.

Building the trail, the Onondaga Audubon wrote, will require the removal of 28 trees. The 28 represent a “high percentage” of trees that eagles currently use for roosting, the group continued.

Thomas Wittig, the USFWS Northeast Eagle coordinator, detailed four suggestions for protecting eagles in a letter to the county office of Environmental Director Travis Glazier.

Wittig recommended in the letter that the county retain all of the trees that make up Murphy Island’s canopy, called upstory trees. The coordinator suggested that the vegetation of the lower and middle floors be preserved as much as possible. They also suggested the county restrict activity during the winter, both for trail construction and access after the trail is completed.

Once the trail is open to the public, Shute said she fears there will be little enforcement of the trail closure, which could upset the eagles on Murphy’s Island. She added that disturbing eagles, especially in winter, can be extremely damaging.

“Their energy reserves may be reduced, perhaps they are running out of fish or less successful in their foraging actions,” she said.

The Onondaga Audubon shared a similar concern.

“We know this will happen because intruders have been observed by Onondaga Audubon in the past,” the group wrote. “(They) are usually only noticed because the eagles suddenly abandon all their perches and circle the area until the intruder leaves the area.”

Advocates also shared concerns about construction and pollution in the area. Joe Heath, the Onondaga Nation’s general counsel, said Murphy’s Island was too polluted for the nation to use.

“It’s the most polluted spot on the lake, which is a very competitive position,” Heath said.

The Onondaga Audubon reported that Murphy’s Island was not cleaned up despite the area being potentially contaminated with chemicals. The land, writes the organization, has been abandoned for half a century.

Thomas also said the grounds had not been cleared despite the upcoming construction.

Thomas and Shute also explained the importance of eagles in the culture of the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee in general.

Following the creation of the Confederacy – which united the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Mohawk and Onondaga – the Peacemaker uprooted a white pine tree, according to the Onondaga Nation. Weapons were then thrown into the hole created and carried away by a stream.

After replanting the tree, the Peacemaker placed an eagle on top of the tree.

“The eagle is there to use its eyesight to gaze afar and to warn the Haudenosaunee, the people of the longhouse, of any danger on the horizon to that great peace,” reads the nation’s website. Onondaga.

“When will that be enough? asked Thomas. “Because it’s our backyard. This is the court of the Onondaga Nation.

Contact Kyle: [email protected] | @Kyle_Chouinard


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