First-ever documentation of successful Bald Eagle hatch on the Merrimack River
by Chris Martin, Senior Biologist
After searching and monitoring for many years, New Hampshire’s Merrimack River valley finally has its first baby eagles! Earlier this month, NH Audubon volunteer Peter Gray captured the image below of two fuzzy eaglets and an adult in their nest in Manchester. Gray’s photo provides the first-ever documentation of a successful hatch by bald eagles anywhere along the 65-mile length of the Merrimack River from its origin in Franklin to the Massachusetts state line.
The story of how we reached this point involves hard work and dedication by many individuals and groups over a period of more than a decade. The mature white pine tree that now supports the nest was identified in fall 2006 as a suitable location for a human-built nest for eagles. This task – one step in mitigation efforts designed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NH Fish & Game, and NH Department of Transportation during construction of the new Manchester Airport Access Road bridge – involved creation of an artificial nest 85 feet up a massive pine in November 2006 by arborist Dan Geiger and other cooperators.
No eagles were noted at the nest until the summer of 2009, when monitors affiliated with Normandeau Associates realized to their surprise that the nest had been “relocated” roughly five feet higher in the tree than where Geiger had originally built it! But no one saw eagles there in 2009 or 2010, let alone observed them moving the sticks around, and we were not able to classify this site as an occupied eagle breeding territory. In late March 2011, Lee Carbonneau from Normandeau Associates observed two adult bald eagles on the nest, and activity continued through the spring, so the area qualified as an occupied breeding territory in 2011.
In March 2012, I confirmed that the pair was incubating eggs in the nest. But when hatch time came, the pair abandoned their efforts and the nest failed to produce young. Then this past February, during our 2013 Late Winter Bald Eagle Survey, volunteers documented incubation once again underway. After waiting through a five-week incubation period, we finally saw signs of hatch in early April, and on April 20 Peter Gray caught a glimpse of chicks for the first time.
Reaching this point is very satisfying, after all the efforts that have gone into eagle habitat protection in the greater Manchester area since the 1990s. These efforts include safeguarding the Moores Crossing roost area, documenting the once-present Hazelton Drive nest, mitigation of the nearby Airport Access Road, and creation of a human-built nest. Something to celebrate now, as we await our goal of a hoped-for fledging of young eagles on the Merrimack River later this summer!