Eagle eye needed for eagle watchers

Staff reports

Winter is a great time to view bald eagles in New York State. Viewing from a safe distance and at planned observation sites can offer an exhilarating and memorable experience. Wintering eagles begin arriving in December with concentrations peaking in January and February. Most are heading back to their nests by mid-March.

The Finger Lakes Region, Hudson River, the Upper Delaware River watershed, and sections of the St. Lawrence River are great places to view bald eagles in the winter. The once-endangered bald eagles are often seen near Keuka and Seneca lakes. But at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which played an integral role in reintroducing them to New York, there are well-marked viewing areas. Today, Montezuma boasts six active bald eagle nests.

Bald eagles are often seen near Keuka and Seneca Lakes. There are six active bald eagle nests at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

The infamous trio's nest can be viewed from Armitage Road, located off of State Route 89. The trio has nested on the refuge since 1987; the two males are from a reintroduction program conducted in the late 1970s. There are two other known eagle nests within the Montezuma; one in the Savannah area, and one near the Audubon Center.

While there are only a handful of nests in the refuge, the number of bald eagles may surprise you. During a bird survey along the Main Pool, a volunteer spotted 59 eagles in one morning, many immatures.

The following tips will help you to have the best possible experience:

-- Use binoculars or spotting scopes instead of trying to get a little closer.

-- Don't do anything to try to make the bird fly.

-- Respect private property, and avoid restricted areas.

-- Scan the tree line for eagles that are perched in the tree tops.

-- Look overhead for eagles soaring high in the sky.

-- Arrive early (7-9 a.m.) or stay late (4-5 p.m.), when eagles are most active.

-- Be patient -- this is the key to successful viewing.

Warning: Harassing, disturbing, or injuring a bald eagle is illegal.

Federal laws protect bald eagles

Bald eagles are no longer an endangered species, but bald and golden eagles are still protected by multiple federal laws, such as the Eagle Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act, and other state and municipal protections. Eagles, their feathers and parts, nests, nest trees, and winter/nighttime roosts are all protected by federal laws.

The Eagle Act prohibits anyone from taking, possessing, or transporting any eagle or eagle parts (including nests, eggs, feathers, etc) without prior authorization. This includes inactive nests as well as active nests. Activities that directly or indirectly lead to taking are prohibited without a permit.

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was originally passed in 1940, to provide protection of the bald eagle and the golden eagle (as amended in 1962). You may not pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest, or disturb any bald eagle. The first criminal offense is a misdemeanor with maximum penalty of one year in prison and $100,000 fine for an individual. The second offense becomes a felony with maximum penalty of two years in prison and $250,000 fine for individual. Fines are doubled for an "organization" such as a business. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act also provides for maximum civil penalties of $5,000 for each violation.

Rewards are provided for information leading to arrest and conviction for violation of the Act.

Includes information from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.