26 January 2010

Eagle Watching in Nova Scotia

Just a few minutes away from my vacation home at the eastern end of Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, up to four hundred bald eagles and some other birds of prey come to spend every winter, attracted by easily available food sources in the region's river estuaries and poultry farms. The village of Sheffield Mills hosts an annual Eagle Watch, where the wintering eagles are fed with dead birds from the farms.

Interested in seeing the spectacle, but concerned about the impact of this practice on the eagles, I contacted Mark F. Elderkin, a Provincial Department Of Natural Resources biologist concerned with endangered species.

According to Elderkin, in 2002 the organizers of the Sheffield Mills eagle feeding weekends, along with an array of persons representing local tourism and agriculture, met with the department to consult on the impact of the event.

In the past, looser provincial regulations on disposal of farm carrion meant that the eagles may indeed have been fed diseased fowl.  However, "Strict biosecurity codes are being applied now on all commercial operations in the Valley, hence the number of dead birds given to eagles is very limited from what it was a decade or more ago," says Elderkin.  "Diseased poultry is not (presently) thrown out for eagles to consume and the feeding sites where this is being done are strictly controlled by farmers and organizers."

Department of Natural Resources documentation notes that the eagles, which would be here for the poultry farm castoffs anyway, are becoming habituated to human presence and car traffic. While this may not seem like a good thing, it in fact expands the eagles' territory and has helped to establish the birds in the province.

Elderkin also indicates that the eagle population in this region is now stabilizing, after rapid growth during the 80s and 90s. There are actually only a few nesting pairs in this area of the province, out of an estimated over two hundred pairs province wide (most of them in Cape Breton). But from December to March, an estimated four hundred birds will live in the eastern Annapolis Valley.
I'll be checking in on the Sheffield Mills event this weekend (January 30, 31) and hopefully will have some pictures to post.

Sheffield Mills Eagle Watch

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