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No-boating zone around Strawberry Island offers haven for bald eagles

The bald eagles that landed on Strawberry Island four years ago can now nest in peace, thanks to a 330-foot no-boating zone that prohibits Jet Skis and other motorized craft from disturbing the feathered family.

“The cove is a protected area so it has calm water, perfect for Jet Skiers to zip around in,” said Timothy T. DePriest, a Niagara River biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “Even larger boats will try to make their way in and will likely run aground doing damage to the wetland plantings.”

Unfortunately, nothing could save the pair’s original female eagle that wandered from the nest last year and was found dead on the Beaver Island Golf Course, according to DePriest.

“It was found in the middle of the nesting season,” DePriest said. “Probably, it was killed by another raptor as a territorial thing. This year, the male eagle found a new partner, and they had two eagle chicks.”

Buoys have been placed across the north end of the cove of the horseshoe-shaped island, which was hollowed-out years ago from mining of gravel and sand. Signage was installed on the island and in the cove marks.

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“Eagles use the same nest for their lifetime, laying their eggs around mid-February and hatching them 30 days later,” DePriest explained. “During nesting season, the eagle chicks will use the nest as their home base,” DePriest said. “It’s the center of their world before they migrate in the fall. A lot of them will go further inland. The juveniles have to disperse and find their own territory to establish, but they don’t do that until they mature in three or four years.”

The Erie County Sheriff’s Office, and officers from the DEC and state parks will enforce the restricted water rules. While motorized boats are prohibited from entering the cove, nonmotorized vessels are not. In addition all boaters are reminded that federal navigation laws – including the 5 mph speed limit within 100 feet of the shoreline – are important for the protection of the island and other natural resources.

The wetland restoration project that began last year should be complete by 2017, according to officials from the DEC and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation who are guiding the Niagara River Habitat Improvement Project. Much of the restorative work is taking place underwater, DePriest noted.

“We’re building submerged islands to reduce wave energy so plants can grow,” he said. “We want to establish wetland and aquatic plants.”

The bald eagles have nested on the island for four years, DePriest said. The first year, they were not successful. The second year, two chicks were hatched and last year, the female eagle died, he said.

The DEC recently announced a new plan to manage New York’s population of the 300 nesting pairs of bald eagles, said Kristen Davidson, public affairs specialist with the DEC.

The bald eagle is listed as a threatened species in New York, Davidson said. Avoiding human disturbance at bald eagle nests is important to protecting the species. Some bald eagles are very sensitive to human activity and disturbance, especially at nest sites. Any repeated disturbance by humans is unlawful under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and under the Environmental Conservation Law of New York.

The eagles of Strawberry Island have good neighbors.

“Common tern, who usually nest in the Buffalo Harbor along the breakwaters, have started to nest outside Strawberry Island,” DePriest said. “The fact that we’ve got these eagles also nesting on Strawberry Island is a strong sign of the river’s ecological recovery.”


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