KNOX, Maine — Lots of farmers and gardeners in Waldo County and beyond swear by Kinney Compost, a rich black mixture that adds nutrients to soil.
Still, there are no bigger fans of the compost than the bald eagles that flock to the farm on Knox Ridge in Knox to feast on its raw ingredients. They especially love the fish scraps that are delivered every weekday from Ducktrap River of Maine, a Belfast company that makes smoked salmon and other smoked seafood products.
“We started with two to four couples. There are times when we see 30 to 40 eagles out there or around,” Gwen Kinney, who started making compost with her husband, Wes, about 25 years ago. “They know where we are, and they like the salmon. They spread it all over the place. Then the little birds come and pick it up.”
The Kinneys love to watch the eagles that perch in the tall trees that line their driveway, and fly low over the heaps of compost in their fields. There are fewer now than there were a few weeks ago. That’s because in the spring and summer, the eagles tend to be busy with their nests and eaglets, and other food sources are easier to find.
But in the colder months, Kinney Compost is the place to be.
From left (clockwise): Dozens of bald eagles flock to a farm in Knox to feast on fish scraps that are delivered daily to the farm where Kinney Compost is made; Bald eagles perch in a tree overlooking compost piles to feast on fish scraps that are delivered daily to the farm where Kinney Compost is made; A bald eagle sits on a compost pile as dozens of gulls feast on the fish scraps at Kinney Compost in Knox. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
“They come here and know they’ll get something they can eat,” Gwen Kinney, 84, said.
She and her husband, who is 88, don’t mind the hungry birds gobbling up the fish scraps. Far from it.
“My husband’s attitude is he’d rather feed the eagles than make compost. The eagles come first,” she said.
Other birds enjoy the buffet, too. But it’s the eagles that bring the occasional birdwatcher to the parking lot of the nearby Knox Ridge Baptist Church, where they can eat a lunchtime sandwich while watching the show. In addition to being the emblem of the United States, the eagle also is important in religious symbolism, and Pastor Larry Strout said that he has worked eagles into his sermons more than once. He doesn’t mind a few birdwatchers, as long as they are considerate and don’t overwhelm the busy church’s parking lot.
“We often take time to look at them,” he said. “There are so many of them, and they’re so big.”
Another group that has also appreciated having the unofficial eagle feeding station close to hand is Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation center in nearby Freedom. Diane Winn, one of the founders of the nonprofit organization, said that her group occasionally has released birds at Kinney’s Compost. They know the birds will be able to find food and companionship there.
“We’re always glad to know about a reliable winter hangout for eagles,” she said. “It’s certainly convenient.”
There aren’t a lot of downsides to being an eagle gathering spot, Gwen Kinney said. The eagles have left their cats alone, and the occasional bird fight just seems to be a squabble over food. But the numbers of eagles in her yard has spoiled her, she said, describing a time that she and her husband went to Alaska with an RV group from Maine.
“They made a big deal about how they were going to take us someplace where perhaps we could see some eagles,” Gwen Kinney said. “We maybe saw two or three. We laughed, because we can see so many more here.”