AMESBURY — The annual bald eagle count will take place a little later than normal this year, and in the local area, Amesbury will find itself in the spotlight.
The state’s annual count will be held April 5, with observers spread out statewide in an effort to get an accurate count of the number of nesting birds along the state’s major rivers, lakes and reservoirs.
Locally, bald eagles have one known nest in the lower Merrimack River valley — it’s located on the edge of Amesbury’s Point Shore neighborhood. The nest is near the Merrimack River, but not directly alongside it.
“There’s been a pair of eagles bringing sticks to the nest,” said Bill Gette, director of Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Center in Newburyport.
April is the time of year that shows transition in the local bald eagle population. Many eagles spend the winter along Massachusetts rivers and waterways. By April, they are leaving for their habitat to the north, or have already left. The few birds that remain are nesting pairs.
For 30 years, the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife conducted its survey in January, but this year, the date was changed to April in order to get a better idea of the size of the nesting population. The January count was done to document the gradual rise in the number of birds overwintering in the state. Now that the overwinter population is considered successful, the state is moving on to measure the next level of success — the growing number of nesting birds.
Last year, 19 of 27 nests produced chicks in Massachusetts. In total, 31 chicks fledged, meaning they hatched and survived to fly. It’s considered to be a successful year, given that 447 chicks have fledged in the state in the past 23 years.
Gette said there were relatively few eagles seen in Greater Newburyport this year, when compared to three years ago when record-setting numbers were seen. But that isn’t a sign of a problem.
It’s likely that the relatively mild winters have spread out the eagle population, and encouraged many to stay closer to their native lands in Canada and northern Maine. Eagles head south in the winter to find open water, but Gette said they will remain in the north if they can.
“Migrating is expensive, migrating is dangerous,” said Gette, explaining the expense comes in the physical effort involved in flying hundreds of miles.
Locally, the best places to view eagles this year has been Deer Island in Amesbury and along the banks of the Merrimack River at the Spring Lane water treatment plant in Newburyport.
“Lots and lots of young eagles show us that there’s been lots and lots of breeding success,” he said.
According to the state, if weather does not permit the survey to occur on April 5, the backup date will be April 12. Additionally, the state encourages people to submit eagle sightings throughout the year by email at Mass.email@example.com or by mail to “Eagle Survey,” MassWildlife, Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, 100 Hartwell St., Suite 230, West Boylston 01583.