Visitors to Hempstead Lake State Park this winter may find themselves feeling a bit more patriotic, should they chance across one of the three bald eagles that have taken up residence.
Two adult eagles and one immature adult seem to have settled in the park for the winter, and have been spotted all across the park, though primarily in the area north of Hempstead Lake, near the Southern State Parkway. Bald eagles are a rarer sight on Long Island than in the rest of New York, but Steve Schellenger, who leads the South Shore Audubon Society walks in Hempstead Lake State Park, says the eagles do sometimes migrate south for the winter.
“Normally, they would come down far enough to get away from the frozen ponds up north, but of course this year, our ponds are frozen here, too,” said Schellenger, days after the freezing temperatures of the week of Jan. 5. “The last couple winters, we’ve had either an adult or an immature in the area on and off. The fact that there’s three of them this year is unusual.”
When the lake is frozen, the eagles could fly as far as the various South Shore bays or even the ocean to find good areas to fish. But their residency in the area will likely be short-lived. Bald eagles mate for life, and rarely leave the area surrounding their nest — typically, land in a 250-mile radius — for extended periods of time. Schellenger noted that although he has spotted the eagles five or six times, he has yet to see a nest.
“Once they’re off their nesting area, they don’t necessarily travel together,” Schellenger said. “[These are] not necessarily a family group, they’re just three eagles hanging out.”
Bald eagles have a natural life span of more than 30 years in the wild, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. On average, they stand about 30 inches high, sport a wingspan of 72-84 inches, and weigh between 8 and 14 pounds, making them one of the largest birds of prey found in North America.