Bald Eagles on the Lower Sebasticook
Sebasticook Regional Land Trust joined forces with Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) to raise awareness of the ecological values of the Lower Sebasticook River. While valued locally for its scenic, economic, and recreational importance, the Sebasticook is also one of Maine’s and the Atlantic Coast’s most unique and valuable ecological hotspots.
This uniqueness stems from the abundance of fish in its waters resulting from a series of dam removals over the last 20 years. Each spring, millions of river herring (alewives, Alosa pseudoharengus and blueback herring, Alosa aestivalis) migrate from the ocean up the Kennebec River and into the Lower Sebasticook, destined for freshwater spawning areas in the watershed’s lakes and streams.
Bald Eagles and many other wildlife species are attracted to the Sebasticook by the record-setting migration of river herring that swim upstream and return downstream during a relatively confined period. Because of dam removals and effective restoration efforts, the Sebasticook currently hosts the largest river herring fishery along the Atlantic coast.
An amazing 5.3 million river herring were counted passing upstream at the Benton Falls dam fishway in 2018. Counts have continued to be robust although the 2021 count was "only" around 3.5 million. This massive pulse of fish benefits the ecosystem in many ways, but the most conspicuous benefactors during the fish run are Bald Eagles. Osprey, Great Blue Heron and gulls also benefit.
A 2014 study by BRI and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife determined that this short river stretch likely hosts the largest summer aggregation of Bald Eagles in the Northeastern U.S. It is therefore one of the most important resources for Bald Eagle populations in the broader region. BRI partnered with SRLT and US Fish & Wildlife Service to prioritize conservation. One goal was to provide landowners with much needed resources to protect and conserve riverfront habitat critical to a number of key watershed species. Public education materials were developed to raise awareness of this ecological gem situated right here in our backyard.
This work on the Lower Sebasticook was funded in part by a grant from the American Eagle Foundation (www.eagles.org).