Skip to comments.Bald eagles living the good life in North Jersey
Posted on 03/08/2006 10:20:12 PM PST by Coleus
The bald eagle, the national bird which only a few decades ago appeared headed for extinction in the continental United States, is soaring once again. A 40-year campaign to rescue the bald eagle from the deadly clutches of chemical poisoning has been, by all accounts, a remarkable success. The majestic bird had all but disappeared from the lower 48 states in the mid-1960s but is now flourishing -- so much so that the federal government is considering removing the bald eagle from its list of endangered species.
Nowhere has that comeback been more dramatic than in New Jersey. The annual mid-winter eagle census conducted by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife counted only one eagle nest in the state in 1970. The most recent census, completed in January, shows there are now 54. The state reintroduced the bald eagle to the Delaware Bay area in the 1980s. Since then, bald eagles have come to nest in the Delaware Water Gap and in recent years, have moved east to Passaic County. Bald eagles now live year-round at the Wanaque Reservoir, and were spotted in the Meadowlands last winter when they came to feed on the Hackensack River during a deep freeze.
In Wanaque, "The reservoir rarely freezes, so there's always a supply of fish," said Ronald Farr, an environmental scientist with the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission. "Sometimes you'll see them dive into the water for fish, but I've also seen one swoop down and grab a duck. They're equal opportunity feeders." New Jersey's count of 54 nests statewide is up from 34 in 2002. Nationally, the federal government estimates there are more than 7,000 nesting pairs, compared with only 400 in 1967, when the bird was declared an endangered species. Farr recalled the first time he saw a bald eagle at the Wanaque Reservoir a few years ago. "Actually it wasn't one; it was three of them," he said. "I was driving around the reservoir, came around a bend and there were three of them in the trees, a mother and two fledglings. That's not something I'll ever forget."
Since then, Farr says it's not unusual to see several bald eagles in a day. "One day last summer I saw seven," he said. "You'll see them swoop down over the water and take a fish."
Decimated by DDT
Bald eagles are at the top of the food chain, with no known predator -- except for man, whose use of the pesticide DDT nearly wiped them out. Once DDT got into the food chain, mainly through runoff into the rivers and streams and into fish, it caused the bald eagles' eggs to soften. Generations of bald eagles were never hatched. The federal government banned DDT in 1972. A year later, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act, a historic bill which severely restricted commercial land development in favor of the preservation of habitat for wildlife. The bald eagle was placed at the top of the list of endangered species.
Saving the bald eagle not only required the elimination of DDT, but also meant that states would have reintroduce the bird to the wild once the toxic effects of pollution had been minimized. In 1982, New Jersey purchased 60 baby eagles from Canada, and then erected several so-called "hacking" towers in the Delaware Bay region to raise the birds. The towers were cages about 30 feet tall that allowed the birds to gaze out over an area, as if they were being raised in a nest. Mick Valent, a biologist with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, was among the scientists who climbed the towers and fed the birds through a trap door. Scientists then released the birds into the wild when they were old enough to fend for themselves.
Eagles have the uncanny ability to remember exactly where they were born, and to return to that spot when they are mature and ready to mate. It's a process known as "imprinting." A bald eagle won't sprout the distinctive white head and tail until it is about 4 years old and ready to mate. At that time, it will fly back to the place where it was born, find a mate and build a nest, scientists say. With this knowledge, scientists were confident they could reintroduce the bald eagle to New Jersey and create a permanent habitat.
The return of the bird with the 8-foot wingspan has been so impressive that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month revived a proposal to remove it from the list of endangered species. Officially, the bird had been downgraded from "endangered" to merely "threatened" in 1995, and the population has continued to grow since then. Were the bird to be dropped from the list, it would still enjoy federal protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which makes it a felony crime for anyone to kill, trap, trade, sell or even disturb a bald eagle or its nest. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has drafted a new definition of "disturb" that includes any action which would interfere with the breeding, feeding or nesting pattern.
Chris Tollefson, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said delisting the bald eagle would allow the states to take primary responsibility for protecting them, but the federal government would continue to monitor the birds for five years. But some environmental groups don't trust the timing of the move, and are wary of a bill in Congress that would overhaul the Endangered Species Act for the first time since 1973. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., would require the government to compensate property owners if steps to protect endangered species thwart development plans, and would prevent government from designating certain areas as "critical habitat," which severely limits development.
The House of Representatives adopted the bill in September, 229-193. It is now before the Senate. Larry Schweiger, the president of the National Wildlife Federation, said the bald eagle is a good example of why the Endangered Species Act should be left alone. "We cannot commemorate this remarkable comeback without acknowledging the law that helped us achieve it," he said. "At the very hour that some in Congress are poised to weaken the Endangered Species Act, we are reminded that its safeguards were vital in charting the path of recovery for the bald eagle and other imperiled wildlife."
The New Jersey Audubon Society has called upon Governor Corzine to designate areas of the state as critical habitat for bald eagles and other endangered species. Developers in an area designated as critical habitat must design their projects so they don't negatively impact endangered species."This isn't about whether there will be development or no development," said Eric Stiles, vice president of conservation for the New Jersey Audubon Society. "It's about what kind of world we want for ourselves and for our children. I've taken my 7-year-old daughter for hikes in New Jersey and she's seen a bald eagle. I think most people would want that opportunity for their children as well." The federal government will receive comment on its proposal to delist the bald eagle through May 17.
Oh, whoops. You said bald eagle, not bald ass.
Animals eating animals... PETA would be appalled.
It'll be a different story after the Eagles are busted for racketeering, money laundering, and loan sharking.
Lots of bald eagles in the Puget Sound region. See them flying in downtown Seattle every once in awhile.
We have several pair of nesting eagles in our neighborhood.
They'll swoop down into the lake and come out with a fish...they're beautiful creatures to watch.
You have every right to brag. Great pictures. We have several of them hanging out on the north end of Rush Lake, not close enough for pictures. They do take your breath away when there are several of them floating on the air currents overhead. People dump unwanted cats down at our end, between the eagles and the coyotes, they don't last long.
Very nice pictures.
Beautiful pictures! Thank you for posting them.
There were a few earlier this winter hanging out on the Racoon River.
Last year there were at least 24 baldies here that stayed at least a month.They stayed late enough in Iowa that I got to see at least one aerial mating or mock aerial combat routine where one baidie will swoop on another and the lower flips over, talons up. Beautiful show. Better than watching the Thunderbirds and not quite so loud.
I have only one thing to say:
Just kiddin. Have a pair livin near me. But about ten years ago, saw a pair mating on the Olympic peninsula. They would fly up to about 600 feet, clasp together, and just fall. Then, when they were only about 100 feet from the ground, they'd separate and fly apart.
EVERY type of wildlife has been on the rebound in the northeast over the years. As a kid in the NYC area, you only very rarely saw turkeys, red-tailed hawks, great blue herons -- even seeing a deer was cause for excitement. Now...
Saw my first bear in the Catskills last summer, first bald eagle the year before that.
We have many here at the local landfill in fact their are walking tours around the landfill for birdwatchers.They are beautiful to watch.
The 500,000,000 dead from malaria would like to thank Rachel Carson and the rest of the Green Brigade for banning DDT.
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