Sometimes you hear and see things that indicate something may be in the area before you know it. Birds like loons may start calling in panicked warning to their fellow feathered friends. You may hear a dozen ducks taking off from their watery calm, a beaver tail’s splash. Songbirds seen and heard feeding and frolicking overhead suddenly may disappear to the sheltered shadows of forest cover. And then it may go silent.
During that silence, look up and scan the skies above. What you may see is the silhouette of the body and wingspan of a cruising bald eagle; a majestic and awe-inspiring sight that only recently is being seen more and more near the water bodies of the Frontenac Arch.
The bald eagle was almost wiped out from the shores of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River due to a couple of factors. Habitat loss along the shorelines where they once flourished didn’t help and nor did hunting, but it was our human disdain for bugs like mosquitoes that really hurt them. In the 1950s, we developed a chemical known as DDT to manage the insects that we preferred to live without. Unfortunately, we did not know that its use could leave us without species such as the osprey and bald eagle. With the chemical entrenched in the food chain, the eagles as top predators received the worst of it and could no longer reproduce successfully, their eggs were soft and rendered unable to hatch.
DDT was banned in the early 1970s once the collateral damage of its use was recognized. But, it has taken since then, over 40 years, for the bald eagle to begin their re-establishment in the area. Stewardship efforts such as nesting platforms have helped them find new homes and hopefully their numbers will continue to increase.
Bald eagles have a reputation of being great hunters, and while their size and talons do allow for that, they are intelligent birds and realize that if they don’t need to spend the energy hunting, they could use their size and dexterity to take what has already been killed. They will take food from other birds of prey like osprey or find carrion that takes little effort to feed upon; though make no mistake - they are still capable of hunting prowess.
This time of year and through the winter, the eagles will move back towards the shores of the St. Lawrence River where spots of open water still allow ducks, fish, small mammals and other species to be considered prey. The frozen inland lakes will be abandoned. While some may migrate further south, some can be seen regularly along the river’s shore during the colder months.
The lakes, rivers and necessary habitats are still here. The fish, ducks and other food sources are still here. And yes, mosquitoes are still here. Thankfully, since all these things still abound on the Frontenac Arch, the bald eagles are soaring back as well.