Eagles prospering along Hudson 35 pairs confirmed

Reports of sightings on the increase in upstate New York

March 17, 1998|By ALBANY TIMES UNION

JAMESTOWN, VA. — ALBANY, N.Y. -- The soaring, swooping bald eagle that has inspired poets and patriots is flocking to a stretch along the Hudson River in record numbers.

Reports of sightings from residents, bird-watchers and scientists are coming from the river's tree-lined banks in Saratoga, Rensselaer, Washington and Warren counties in upstate New York.

"We've had eagles wintering on the upper Hudson and we've monitored eagles for the last four years in this stretch," said Peter Nye of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Endangered Species Unit.

Nye said, "The Hudson in particular has and is coming alive as far as being an eagle habitat."

The birds have made a comeback across North America in the last two decades. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bumped the species down to threatened from endangered.

Nye is studying the bald eagle habitat along the Hoosic River in Rensselaer County. He said sightings have recently been reported from Cohoes to Peebles Island to Glens Falls. Sightings have increased in each of the eagle-wintering areas around Stillwater, the St. Lawrence River, the southwestern Catskills, the lower Hudson River and part of Oswego County.

In 1979, 41 bald eagles wintered in New York and just 13 of them were young eagles or eaglets. But last winter, 175 bald eagles were recorded, including 75 eaglets. So far this winter, 125 bald eagles have been observed, Nye said.

In addition, a record 35 nesting pairs have been confirmed, up from 29 a year ago, Nye said. Forty-three eagles have "fledged" or taken wing, another record.

The reason for the resurgence is the ban on some pesticides in the 1970s that interfered with eagle reproduction. A crackdown on illegal shootings and a drop in demand for eagle feathers also have contributed to the increase, said state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone.

Fran Marzello knows the thrill of seeing one. About 12:30 p.m. one recent Tuesday, Marzello was looking out her front window to a commanding view of the Hudson just north of Mechanicville. There Marzello spotted a young "baldy," distinct with its white head and thick, dark body. About a foot tall, the eagle perched on a tree stump on the river bank, eyeing the water for prey.

"I was real surprised," she said, cradling her 18-month-old son, Anthony. "By the time I could get out there he was gone."

It was the first time she saw a bald eagle since she and her husband, Guy, moved to their home 10 years ago.

"A lot of people call here, numerous people, saying they sighted eagles, and that's encouraging," said Pete Dubacher, director of the Berkshire Bird Paradise. The nonprofit rehabilitation center in Grafton cares for permanently injured eagles.

The educational center houses 11 bald eagles and four golden eagles in its huge greenhouse and large outdoor free-flying areas. They are fed with road kill.

"Our goal is to successfully hatch baby eaglets and release them to the wild," said Dubacher, whose flock includes many eagles that are healthy except for an amputated wing.

"We haven't done it yet, but we're very close," he said. The center has high hopes for a pair showing promising signs during the current mating season.

"You can see now the positive effect of environmental regulation," Stone said.

But environmentalists wonder if the comeback over the past 25 years can be sustained.

"I think right now there is a slippage on the environment," Stone said. "The fervor of the 1960s and 1970s is over, and people aren't paying as much attention now. ... It's not the Pataki administration, I think the governor is interested in the environment. It's the public."

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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