National Geographic News: NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM/NEWS
 

 

Bald Eagles' Manhattan Return Turns Turbulent

By Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
August 28, 2002
 
Roughly seven weeks ago the City of New York released four bald eagles in a park at the northern tip of Manhattan, hoping to re-establish the bird as a local resident. Since then one of the four eagles has flown the coop. And another met with a train accident and was brought back from the dead on the operating table.

"Drama has returned to Inwood Hill Park," said Tom Cullen, Master Falconer and Eagle Project Manager for the New York City Parks & Recreation.

The four eagles are certainly keeping Cullen busy.

"Every family has a problem child and the youngest male eagle [called A64] in this group is mine," Cullen said. Within 48 hours of recovering from a nasty bout of roundworm, the young male was hit by a train and was lying on the track with a broken leg. Cullen traced his location using a radio transmitter that each eagle carries in a tiny custom-designed backpack.



Yesterday A64 underwent surgery. "But soon after receiving the anesthetic the bird died on the operating table and the doctors spent 20 minutes trying to resuscitate him," said Cullen. Fortunately they were successful.

The bone was repaired and a splint attached to the bird's leg. Cullen estimates that he will probably require about three weeks of physical rehabilitation during which he will be extensively handled—something that Cullen has tried to avoid.

The older male, A62, was last seen traveling north of Haverstraw, NY, with another eagle. The older female spent the last week flying out of transmitter range in southwest New Jersey. She returned in good health this morning. "She apparently likes New York more than New Jersey," said Cullen.

The younger female is the only bird that seems to like the neighborhood, and the free lunch. She has only traveled about 150 yards from the release site.

New York's New Immigrants

The eaglets—two males and two females—landed in New York from northern Wisconsin on June 20, exactly 220 years after the bald eagle was declared the national symbol. The birds were hoisted onto a tree-house style platform rigged with a remote-controlled Web camera in Inwood Hill Park, near the Hudson and Harlem rivers in northern Manhattan.

The ultimate goal of the reintroduction program is to encourage the birds to nest and breed in the NYC region, once again making it their home. And New York officials are also hoping that the eagles will become symbols of renewed strength and pride, boosting spirits in the wake of 9/11.

"We're bringing back our nation's symbol to New York," Adrian Benepe, commissioner of NYC's Parks & Recreation, told National Geographic Today in an earlier interview. "We've been through hard times before—we're still in hard times but this is a nice symbolic part of the resurgence of New York."

The eaglets arrived courtesy of the Urban Park Rangers, a division of the city's Parks & Recreation department. The Rangers' goal is to reintroduce native flora and fauna to the city's parks. Bald eagles haven't lived in the Big Apple for more than 100 years, but the rangers are working to change that.

These eagles were commonly seen in the New York area during the 1800s. As late as the mid-1800s, about 70 eagles wintered on Long Island. But hunting, egg collecting, and the pesticide DDT decimated their numbers. And human development devoured eagle habitat.

During the past decade, however, New York State has been restoring the Hudson River and its estuary. At the same time, New York City has been trying to rebuild the various ecosystems in its parks. And now, with the Hudson River's pollution significantly reduced and the forest slopes along the river restored, rangers are hopeful that they can entice the eagles to the area.

"Ecologically speaking, eagles are important for the environment," said Cullen. "They're at the top of the food chain. They act as the perfect barometer of the environment itself."

"Basically, if it's too polluted for the eagles to survive, it's too polluted for us to survive."

New York City, Not a Good Release Site

But not everyone believes that the NYC release site is good for the eagles.

"If reintroducing eagles in New York City had been a good idea, we would have done it as part of our scientifically designed program," said Peter Nye, director of the Endangered Species Unit at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Nye leads the ongoing bald eagle restoration program that began in 1976.

Nye chose four release sites in New York State that had a history of bald eagle occupancy. All were isolated from human disturbance, unpolluted, had abundant food supplies, and were suitable for reoccupation year after year. Today all four sites are successful breeding grounds.

In 1976 there were no bald eagles in New York State. The goal of Nye's program was to establish ten nesting pairs. Between 1976 and 1988 the program released 198 young eagles, and by 1988 there were ten breeding pairs statewide. Since then, no eagles have been released, but the population is actively monitored and continues to soar.

"The program has been a fantastic success," said Nye. "The population is still growing at about 10 to 15 percent per year and there are now 72 nesting pairs around the state."

This year 92 fledglings have left the nest.

Nye said it is too early to pass judgement on the four NYC eagles. Leaving the nest is no guarantee of survival. He also adds that bald eagles reach sexual maturity between four and five years. Whether the four eagles will feel Manhattan's frenetic urban tug and return to the city to nest and breed remains to be seen.

The current plan is to release a total of 20 bald eagles within five years. "We hope that about 10 percent or two birds will return to the area and make New York City their home."

National Geographic Today, at 7 p.m. ET/PT in the United States, is a daily news journal available only on the National Geographic Channel. Click here to learn more about it. Go>>

Recent Bird Stories by National Geographic News
Birders Journal: Attack of the Flying Goshawk
Saving the Edible-Nest Swiftlet
Birder's Journal: Seduced by Dueling Thrushes
Birds Can Be Picky About Their Neighborhood, Studies Find
Acid Rain May Have a Role in the Decline of the Wood Thrush
Icelandic Kids Save Befuddled Puffins
Crow Makes Wire Hook to Get Food
Rare Warbler Eluding Extinction in U.S.
In India, Nets Save Baby Storks From Falls
Bald Eagle Bounces Back After Decades of Persecution
Birder's Journal: It's Survey Season for Breeding Birds
Conservationists Fight to Save Harpy Eagles
Birder's Journal: Chasing Down Warblers
Africa's New Safari Trend Is for the Birds
Decline of Red-Tailed Hawks Has U.S. Scientists Puzzled
A Reason to Give Thanks: The Return of the Wild Turkey
State Bird of Hawaii Unmasked as Canadian
Harry Potter Owl Scenes Alarm Animal Advocates
Ultrarare Woodpecker Spurs Ultimate Birding Trip
"Extinct" Woodpecker Still Elusive, But Signs Are Good
Extinct Dodo Related to Pigeons, DNA Shows
Bird Extinctions May Hold Clues to Human Survival, Author Says
Tagging Hobbles Penguins, Some Researchers in Cape Town Contend
Patagonia Penguins Make a Comeback
Penguin Decline in Antarctica Linked With Climate Change
Ice Buildup Hampers Penguin Breeding in Antarctica
Evolutionary Oddities: Duck Sex Organ, Lizard Tongue
Some Ducks Let Young Be Raised by Relatives
Turkey Vultures Flourish in the U.S. Thanks to Road Kill
Forecasting the Journey South

National Geographic Bird Resources
Bald Eagles: Come Back From the Brink
Experience the Sights and Sounds of Eagles

Nationalgeographic.com Bird-Watching Sites
Boston Area
Chicago Area
Florida Keys Area
Maine's Acadia National Park
Mount Rainier
New Orleans Area
New York City Area
North Carolina's Outer Banks
Philadelphia Area
Portland Area
Rocky Mountain National Park
Salt Lake City Area
San Francisco Area
Santa Fe Area
South Dakota's Black Hills
Utah
Washington's Olympic National Park
Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yosemite National Park


From the National Geographic Store
Guide to North American Birds
Portable Birdsong Identifier
Birder's Journal
Songbirds Puzzle

Join the National Geographic Society
Join the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organization, and help further our mission to increase and diffuse knowledge of the world and all that is in it. Membership dues are used to fund exploration and educational projects and members also receive 12 annual issues of the Society's official journal, National Geographic. Click here for details of our latest subscription offer: Go>>
 

© 1996-2008 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.