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Bald Eagles Take Up Residence in New Haven

"We've got eagles nesting right on the highway here. This is all new to me."<br><em>Miley Bull </em>

In the 1960s, the eagle population in the United States was in critical decline, due in part to the pesticide DDT and loss of habitat. 

After DDT was banned and federal protection measures put in place, the eagle population started to rebound and the birds were taken off the endangered species list in 2007.

Today, in Connecticut alone, there are 50 known pairs. One couple among them is making the unusual move to a busy section of New Haven.

You can find out almost everything you want to know about the eagles from a group of nature photographers who have been following their progress since word of their arrival. 

Shortly after dawn, on a brisk Saturday morning, a group of about ten photographers assembled near the Ella Grasso Boulevard in New Haven. Bundled in outdoor gear, some in camouflage, they set up tripods and attached cameras with telephoto lenses not meant for amateurs.

They waited, at a respectful distance, for the perfect shot of America’s national bird.

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Credit Lori Mack / WNPR
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WNPR
Nature enthusiasts, photographers, and friends gather to photograph the eagles in New Haven.

They have been photographing this pair of eagles, who have come to be known as Walter and Rachel, since the eagles arrived about a month ago and started assembling their nest in a tree shared with monk parakeets. It’s a sort of bird condo on a median surrounded by roadways.

Walter, also known as P2, is banded by the state and federal government for tracking purposes. The eagle was born just outside of Hartford about five years ago, according to Meriden photographer Steven Sola.

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Credit Steven Sola
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Walter carrying a stick to the nest.

"And there’s two bands," Sola said. "There’s a federal band on one talon and a state band on the other, which is easy to read because it’s black and the letters are white. So you could really pick it up if you get a good clear shot."

Rachel has not been banded, so little is known about her, other than the fact that she’s tolerant of her busy surroundings.

Martin Torresquintero, outdoor adventure coordinator for New Haven’s city parks department, is among the group of photographers. He said while the accessibility to observe these federally protected birds is fascinating, keeping them safe and undisturbed has been a challenge.

"We were like scratching our heads trying to do this, because you want to create a buffer about a thousand feet," he said. "Well, how are you going to put a thousand feet in here? There’s only a thousand feet going that way."

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Credit Lori Mack / WNPR
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WNPR
Steven Sola, left, and Martin Torresquintero photographing eagles in New Haven.

The parks department set up a fence, which is posted with signs warning not to feed or disturb the birds. No small feat since the aerie sits in a tree on a strip of land surrounded, on all sides, by busy roadways across from apartments and row houses.

There has been some debate though about whether or not this location will be the eagles’ primary residence. Sola’s not buying it.  

"This is their nest," he said. "I don’t care what they say. There was speculation, they saw the eagles on that light tower by the Yale baseball field, and people thought because they were sitting on sticks there that maybe that was a secondary nest. But it’s not. It belongs to an osprey."

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Credit Steven Sola
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Eagles are normally thought of as wilderness birds. But as populations have grown they seem to be getting more comfortable in urban environments. According to The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, eagles can be found in every county and every major watershed in Connecticut with nests in about 38 towns.

The location of this particular nest is a sight Miley Bull, who’s worked at the Connecticut Audubon Society for 43 years, said he’s never seen.

"You know we’ve got laws and regulations prohibiting people from approaching too close to eagle nests, because you’ll harass the eagles," he said. But, we’ve got eagles nesting right on the highway here. This is all new to me.

Walter and Rachel are said to be going through what they call "housekeeping" at the moment.

No eagle eggs have been sighted yet.

There are organized trips to view the eagles through The New Haven Parks Department, or email Martin Torresquintero.
 

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