Bald Eagles Were Spotted on the Charles River Being Awesome

And why Ben Franklin thought the species was of 'low moral character.'
Bald eagle/American eagle

Bald eagle/American eagle photo via Shutterstock

A runner who braved Wednesday’s harsh temperatures to jog along the Charles River caught a glimpse of two bald eagles scavenging the icy body of water.

Three photos of a pair of what appear to be adult eagles were posted on Reddit with a note reading, “saw these two Eagles while running on the esplanade an hour ago.”

The runner didn’t respond to an inquiry from Boston, but the pictures excited David Larson, a science and education coordinator with Mass Audubon. “That’s pretty cool,” Larson says. “I would consider that to be pretty unusual.”

Larson notes that the clean white heads and white tails suggested they were fully adult and at least five years old. Younger eagles will have “dirty white heads and dirty white tails,” Larson says.

Bald eagles took a beating in post-WWII America, and the advent of DDT, the once popular pesticide, annihilated the population. In the 1970s, they were on the brink of extinction.

Intensive conservation efforts, tighter environmental regulations, and efforts to reintroduce the bird in different regions, including in Massachusetts, have helped the species bounce bank.

Early efforts to revive the bird in the Bay State focused on the Quabbin Reservoir. Today, Larson says, there are small breeding populations throughout the state, including along the Merrimack and Connecticut rivers, as well as near Waltham, among other locations.

Larson suspects the pair seen on the Charles were out for a quick hunt—perhaps the body of water nearest their nest is frozen. “Eagles are mostly fish eaters and they will eat about anything they can catch—ducks, carrion, anything that they can grab,” Larson says, going on to explain that Ben Franklin viewed eagles’ scavenging nature which such disdain that he wanted the turkey to be the national bird.

“He thought bald eagles had low moral character,” Larson says before chuckling.

Larson isn’t betting that the birds will be setting up shop along the Charles anytime soon, but it’s not an impossibility given that the river is getting cleaner and is a good food source. But bald eagles have specific nesting requirements, and while the Charles satisfies some of them, including a direct view of water, it doesn’t have the towering trees they prefer.

Moreover, “they don’t like people that much,” Larson says.

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