A banner year for bald eagles in Connecticut

This has been "a phenomenal year" for bald eagles nesting in the state, with the national bird expanding its range throughout Connecticut, according to a wildlife biologist.

"We've had the highest number ever of attempted nests and successful nests and the highest number of fledglings," Jenny Dickson, wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Friday. "We're getting reports of new nests all over the place, in new territory."

One of the reports is of a new nest at Powers Lake in East Lyme. Staff of the Yale Outdoor Education Center said Friday they spotted a soaring eagle Thursday afternoon and paddled across the lake to find a nest a short distance from shore in the thickly wooded area around the lake, owned by Yale University and DEEP as part of Nehantic State Forest.

Dickson said this year, 42 nesting pairs have been counted statewide raising 57 chicks. That's up from 35 pairs last year that raised 41 chicks. Bald eagles are listed as a threatened species in Connecticut.

The new nests this year are being found in some heavily developed parts of the state, she added, indicating eagles may be adapting to these areas.

"They seem to be more comfortable nesting in areas with traffic and other activity," she said. One nest, she added, is on Route 5 in Hamden, near the New Haven border and Amtrak rail lines.

Bald eagles had disappeared in the state by the 1950s but began making a comeback in the mid-1990s. Since then, Dickson said, the population has been building gradually.

"In the last four to five years, they've really taken off," she said.

For years, eagles were found only in the northwest corner and along the Connecticut River, Dickson said, but recently they've been moving into all corners of the state, including eastern Connecticut. This spring, an eagle was seen near Route 117 in Center Groton.

Chicks raised by the nesting pairs in the state should all be flying by now, Dickson said. The young are all black or all brown, not developing the characteristic white head until they are 4 years old.

Eagles' diet consists mainly of freshwater and saltwater fish, but they will eat a wide variety of small animals and even road kill, Dickson said, and will steal food from other birds of prey.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @bensonjudy

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