The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leuococephalus) is our national bird, and a federally threatened species. Learn more about this remarkable species, and HG&E’s restoration efforts on the Connecticut River.
A mature bald eagle is easily identifiable by its blackish-brown body and characteristic white head. Juvenile eagles are typically light brown, and take about 5 years to develop their adult plumage. Adult female eagles have an average wingspan of 8 feet and a body length of 3 feet, with males being slightly smaller. Bald eagles typically weight approximately 10-14 pounds and live an average of 15-25 years in the wild.
A large portion of the Connecticut River Basin, including that which is in the area of the Holyoke Dam and Hydroelectric Facilities, provides good habitat for bald eagles which includes: the waterway with a plentiful source of food – fish; as well as stands of forest for nesting, perching, and roosting for wintering eagles.
Historically, Pioneer Valley resource decisions in the 1800’s set the area’s dependence on the Connecticut River for navigation, manufacturing and power, and accordingly resulted in changes to its flow, depth, floodplain, as well as loss of critical wildlife habitat, including that of the bald eagle. By the late 1800’s, changes in land use and the westward expansion resulted in significant loss of bald eagle habitat and the decline of the population. Eventually, the killing of bald eagles became prohibited under the Bald Eagle Act of 1940. However, their continuing decline was the result of the concentration of organochlorines such as DDT within the food chain that caused the female to lay eggs with shells too thin to withstand incubation.
Today, the bald eagle is beginning to reclaim some of its historic range. In Massachusetts, this is primarily the result of the 1980’s Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife hacking program. Following the release of forty-one eagles from the Quabbin Reservoir, the bald eagle was confirmed as successfully breeding in the state in 1989. In 1995, the bald eagle was down-listed from federally endangered to federally threatened. It remains on the threatened and endangered species list in Massachusetts.
HG&E Restoration Efforts
During 2003, in consultation with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service as well as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, HG&E constructed three man-made eagles’ nests along the Connecticut River, between Hatfield and West Springfield. For the next five years, HG&E monitored bald eagle use of these three sites, as well as a natural nest location that was being utilized by a mating pair of bald eagles. Over this five year monitoring period, juvenile eagles were successfully fledged at two of the three man-made nests, as well as the natural nest. By 2008, which marked the end of the monitoring period, a total of 16 eagles had successfully fledged from the monitored nests. Although HG&E has since fulfilled its monitoring obligations, the man-made nests have been left at their respective locations.