Bald eagles are soaring in New York state 27 eaglets counted in 20 nests, including 2 on Hudson River

September 03, 1998|By ALBANY TIMES UNION

ALBANY, N.Y. - New York bald eagles are soaring again.

To the list of wildlife comeback successes in New York topped off by the white-tail deer, wild turkey and striped bass, add our national bird. But do so quietly, and still with fingers crossed.

Bald eagles were close to extinction here 20 years ago. There was only one native adult breeding pair left in New York state in 1976, in the Montezuma refuge near Syracuse, when the state began an ambitious, $500,000 resettlement program of eaglets from Alaska.

Over the next 13 years, 198 eaglets were banded and taken from nests in Alaska to closely watched hacking, or rearing, sites in New York. Every one of those birds was fretted over by state biologist Peter Nye, head of the then fledgling endangered species unit of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The state unit was required under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, landmark legislation that reshaped this nation's commitment to threatened wildlife and, more important, altered public attitudes irrevocably.

In the face of critics and naysayers evenm from within his agency, a persistent Nye came up with the resettlement plan and was unflagging in its pursuit. He still is.

The unit's motivation and high standards were set early on by Nye. He has devoted enormous energy and time to bringing back the bald eagle to New York, and made it his professional and personal life's work.

Of the eagles from Alaska, some did not survive, some flew off never to return or just to pass through, but the necessary few "took." And in the nick of time. In 1980, the male of the last two native bald eagles in the state was found shot dead at the foot of the nest.

"But unbelievably, one of our young hacked male eagles came in and took over the same nest with the existing female. A few years later, the original female just disappeared, and another hacked bird flew in to take her place and the transition was complete. The nest was never vacant," Nye said, explaining how close the eagle was to extirpation - the complete loss of a species.

Now is promising. Last spring, for the first time in more than a century, a native eaglet was born on the banks of the Hudson River.

There are 27 known healthy native eaglets in 20 nests all over the state, including two nests on the Hudson. The eaglets are about 8 weeks old, and have another month to go before they leave their aeries and take to the air. Then people will see a soaring of eagles in New York that has not been seen since Abraham Lincoln was president.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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