Eagles on Copake Lake

The eagles have been putting on quite a show since the weekend of March 16, when the ice started to break up on Copake Lake. As soon as patches of open water appeared, a family (families?) of eagles started settling on the edge of the ice, close to open water.

The Copake Lake Conservation Society posted on Twitter and Facebook on March 18: “Bring your binoculars if you are driving along the lake today. There are FIVE bald eagles (4 juveniles and an adult) perched on the ice, fishing in the lake. What a sight!”

Juvenile bald eagle on the ice

The adult looks as we are accustomed to — white head, white feathers underneath the tail. The juveniles do not yet have a white head, and their feathers are mottled with all shades of brown and tan. Looking closely through binoculars we could see that the juveniles are molting, feathers in disarray as they develop their adult plumage. We watched through binoculars as an adult eagle swooped down and nudged one of the eaglets off the ice, into the air. They flew together, and then the parent dropped a fish which the offspring missed…it fell to the ice below. The crows are having a field day, picking up all the leftover protein as the young eagles learn how to fish and feed.

When the eagles fly you can really see the variety of colored feathers

As the week wore on there were even more. According to Island Drive residents Jim Murphy and Ed Werfelman, they saw up to 7 at one time from their home on the Point. The eagles started to get more aggressive as they searched for food, attacking other water fowl (ducks) on the lake. One resident told us that he saw an eagle dive bomb a cormorant, first knocking it away from the rest of the flock, and then finishing it off and bringing it back to the eaglets to eat.

Parent and fledgling eagles on the ice

Now that the ice has completely melted, it’s not quite as easy to see the eagles. But they are still here, nesting in the trees and fishing in the lake. If you are looking for them, keep your eyes peeled for large raptors cruising in the sky over the lake, and also look for the juveniles in the trees on the north side of the island. As many as three or four at a time can be seen perched there, often with an adult circling overhead.