Bald Eagles develop a taste for Maine seabirds

20 05 2009
In this corner: The Great Cormorant

In this corner: The Great Cormorant

File this one under the law of unintended consequences: Bald Eagles, threatened with extinction less than 50 years ago, have since rebounded spectacularly. More than 10,000 pairs of the birds now inhabit the lower 48 states, and they all have to make a living somehow. Perhaps because overfishing has depleted the usual prey of the eagles, the birds have shifted away from fish and are now specializing on seabird chicks in the Gulf of Maine. While the eagles will take chicks (and occasionally adults) of all sorts of species, from gulls to eiders to loons, of particular concern is their taste for Great Cormorants. While Great Cormorants are more common in northern climes, only 80 pairs bred in Maine last summer. There is a strong possibility that the Bald Eagles could wipe out the Maine population entirely.

Bald Eagles will feed on almost anything, from fish to roadkill, and select prey based on abundance and ease of capture. With fish stocks on the decline, the wobbly, defenseless cormorant chicks have proven irresistible. Brad Allen, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife described the scene when eagles descend on a seabird colony: “They’re like thugs. They’re like gang members. They go to these offshore islands where all these seabirds are and the birds are easy picking. These young eagles are harassing the bejesus out of all the birds, and the great cormorants have been taking it on the chin.”

And in this corner: the Bald Eagle

And in this corner: the Bald Eagle

Biologists have been spending time on the seabird islands attempting to harass the eagles and prevent them both from driving adult cormorants off active nests, and from eating the chicks once they hatch. This unexpected scenario has put bird lovers of all sorts in the awkward position of having to prioritize one native species over another. Try looking either of these characters in the eye and having that discussion– SEANET certainly doesn’t envy the biologists in the Gulf of Maine.




3 responses

22 12 2009


20 01 2010

you would think the cormorants would be able to take care of themselves

27 06 2010

fishing could be restricted to let the eagle with its own diet.

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