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Bald eagles have found a home on the North Fork

Bald eagles are on the North Fork in increasing numbers, with two possible nesting pairs on salt creeks in Southold Town.

“We have had visiting eagles from other areas,” said Jennifer Murray, an educator with the North Fork chapter of the Audubon Society. “But we are now watching possible nesting pairs. That would be the first here since possibly the 1880s.”

“They are now here, for sure,” she added.

Beginning several years ago, bird-watchers began seeing eagles routinely fishing in North Fork salt creeks instead of just passing through, Ms. Murray said. The big birds, which have been America’s national symbol since 1787, have nested on Shelter Island and Gardiners Island in the past, and eagles from Connecticut have flown over to fish, she said.

But, until 2018 and 2019, no eagles were known to attempt to nest on the North Fork. “We have documented their flight paths when they have flown over to fish and hunt,” Ms. Murray said. “Then we saw a pair doing a courtship routine instead of just feeding here. They were also collecting branches for a nest.

“They were attempting to build a nest near one of the creeks and we would see the female or the male going in and out of where the nest was,” she added. “But we now think something went wrong with that nest and it failed.”

She said it’s possible eggs were laid, but there is no way to know for sure. Since then, she said the society has been watching a second pair of bald eagles farther east in Southold that also appear to be nesting candidates.

She said there have been confirmed eagle sightings — and possible nesting pairs — in Riverhead and Hampton Bays. She said the society is keeping the locations secret so as not to scare off the big birds — which are protected under federal law — if people know where they are. 

Kelly Hamilton, a state Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist, said she was aware of the pair that built the nest that failed. She said it’s possible that the nest was taken over by ospreys. Like Ms. Murray, she said the eagles are here “and that’s awesome. It’s very exciting to see.”

Ms. Murray sent The Suffolk Times photographs taken by Mary Bertschi, an Audubon Society volunteer, of eagles seen in Southold Town. “There is no doubt they are here,” Ms. Murray said.

A bald eagle spotted in Southold Town. (Credit: Mary Bertschi/Audubon Society)

The society has also sent local scat samples from possible coyotes to the DEC office in Stony Brook for testing. Ms. Murray said a trail cam in Mattituck shows what appears to be a coyote. She also said someone found a dead coyote washed up at Bailie Beach in Mattituck last month. That carcass is being examined by the DEC, she said. The DEC confirmed Tuesday that the coyote, which was found by a bay constable, is undergoing a necropsy.

In recent years, the DEC has confirmed a coyote sighting in Bridgehampton, but none elsewhere on the East End. That might be about to change. Experts say coyotes have moved east from Queens and northwest Nassau County, apparently following nature trails and railroad lines. If coyotes are now on the East End, experts say, they could help control out-of-balance deer populations, but some also say coyotes could threaten small pets.

Frank Vincenti of the Wild Dog Foundation in Mineola said he has seen the trail cam photograph. “I’ve reached out to the people who have the photo,” he said. “It looks genuine. It’s a coyote.”