Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) - local seasonal appearance

Based on 15 observations in Seymour township, Northumberland county, southeast Ontario, 1999-2022.

The Bald eagle is a very large and distinctive bird of prey - but moreover a diligent scavenger of recently deceased treats, whether fish, beaver, wolf, or whatever else may be on the menu. This casual compilation of reports seems to centre on the winter months. A spectacular sighting by Donald Munro, reported by Drew Monkman, occurred on 22 January 2017. On that date, 2 adult and 6 immature bald eagles were noted on the ice of the Trent River south of Campbellford. On 29 January 2019, on the Percy Reach, along the same stretch of the Trent, no less than 13 bald eagles were spied waiting while three coyotes ate deer they had killed in the recent past (Donald Munro, via Drew Monkman). On the 05 March 2021, two birds were sighted on a shrinking ice shelf on the west (right) bank of the Trent River in Campbellford, just below Old Mill Park. These were not the iconic adults, but two very dark juveniles, one larger and dominant, the other a bit smaller and deferential. Possibly they were 2nd-year and 1st-year birds from the same area? The two were busy eating a carcass, almost definitely a beaver. By the following day, the remains had shrunk to the size of a loaf of bread, picked over by the gulls. Within a day or so of this sighting an adult and two young were reported, also scavenging a carcass on ice, downstream near the lock 9 dam. The previous month, an adult had been noted above the Crowe Bridge Conservation Area.

Assembling observations reported over the years, it seems possible that the length of the Trent from Hastings downstream to the Frankford area hosts as many as four nests. These are (by crude interpolation): a) downstream of Hastings, b) near and maybe a little upstream of the confluence with the Crowe River, c) in the Meyer's Island area, and d) near the downstream end of the Percy Reach, adjacent to the large wetland area of the Murray Marsh.

No doubt boaters, fishermen and waterfront cottagers see far more of these impressive birds than we do! The reports are all in winter, spring and (in one case) early summer, but the likelihood of breeding is strong. The nests, it may be said, can be gigantic (see Bent, 1937) and should be easy to spot if located near a waterway.

More common in northwest Ontario, the eagle has seen serious persecution and decline in numbers since the 19th century, due to a range of threats. These range, past to present, from trigger-happy morons (mostly in the past, we hope) to lead poisoning due to ingesting lead shot in downed waterfowl (into the 1990s, but now replaced in many jurisdictions by less-toxic bismuth?) to the insidious threat of pesticides (the latter an ongoing concern to the stability of species near the top of the food chain). Across North America, those seeking frequent and numerous encounters with eagles should consider trips to British Columbia and Alaska, but the situation is now somewhat improved in Ontario, especially in the northwest. Jack E. Davis has recently written a history of the simultaneous human admiration and desecration of the eagle in the U.S.A., ably reviewed by Nathaniel Rich (2022).

The bald eagle is an occasional spring migrant and rare fall migrant at Presqu'ile provincial park, roughly 40 km to the south (LaForest, 1993, pp.100-101). Weir (1989, pp.116-120) prepared a detailed review of sightings in the Kingston region to our southeast. The eagle was fairly common in the region in the later 19th century, but by then the effect of land clearance, shooting and the then-popular practice of egg collecting led to a rapid decline. By the 1950s the prime threat had changed to pesticides, DDT in particular. Numbers increased again somewhat, such that by the late 1980s the eagle was a rare summer resident, an uncommon transient in migration, and occasional winter visitor.

In Peterborough county, to the northwest. the eagle appears March-May in spring migration, is rarely seen in autumn, but more regularly seen in winter, as in the area of Stony Lake, Petroglyphs Park and Blue Mountain (Sadler, 1983, p.59). The Breeding Bird Atlases of Ontario (Cadman et al., 1987, pp.110-111; 2007, pp.170-171) affirm that the bald eagle has recovered somewhat from the human assaults (intentional and otherwise) of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Second Atlas shows nesting as confirmed between Hastings and Campbellford, as inferred here from second-hand evidences.

Lastly, remember that the reports on which the associated chart is based are a very incomplete glimpse of the occurrence of this species across the Trent watershed.

View the 23-year (1999-2021) monthly data summary for the bald eagle.


Bent,AC (1937) Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey, Part 1. Dover Publications Inc., 1961 reprint of Smithsonian Institution Bull. 167, 409pp. plus 102 plates (see pp.321-349 and plates 86-95).

Cadman,MD, Eagles,PFJ and Helleiner,FM (1987) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. Federation of Ontario Naturalists and Long Point Bird Observatory, published by University of Waterloo Press, 617pp.

Cadman,MD, Sutherland,DA, Beck,GG, Lepage,D and Couturier,AR (editors) (2007) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ontario Nature, 706pp.

LaForest,SM (1993) Birds of Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Friends of Presqu'ile Park, Brighton, Ontario / Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 436pp.

Rich,N (2022) Loving the bald eagle to death. Atlantic 329 no.2, 94-97, March.

Sadler,D (1983) Our Heritage of Birds: Peterborough County in the Kawarthas. Peterborough Field Naturalists / Orchid Press, Peterborough, ON, 192pp.

Weir,RD (1989) Birds of the Kingston Area. Quarry Press, 608pp. plus map.

Graham Wilson, 15-18,29 March 2021, 24,25 February 2022

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