Little bald eagles testing wings in forest of northern Manhattan

Four baby birds transplanted from Wis.

July 29, 2002|By Robert F. Worth | Robert F. Worth,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - It was a hot day to learn how to fly. But two of the four baby bald eagles that were brought to Inwood Hill Park on June 20 were doing just that, having been released from their treehouse cage.

"They're doing fine," Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said at what he called a "coming-out party" to report on the eagles' progress not far from their leafy aerie at the northern tip of Manhattan.

The eaglets, which were taken from nests in the wilds of Wisconsin, are the first to grow up in New York City since the 19th century, Parks Department officials said.

The department and its nonprofit partners plan to introduce four more eagles into the city every summer for at least five years, in the hope that some of the birds will choose to nest here.

The withering summer heat has not been easy on the eagles, which were visible on a computer screen at the Inwood Hill Nature Center via a live Web camera positioned just above their nest.

One of them seemed to be gasping for air, its tongue hanging out like an exhausted dog and its mottled brown feathers looking ruffled as it perched on a shady ash tree bough.

The other, who was not visible, hopped to a lower branch on and had trouble figuring out how to get back to the cages, where an expert falconer is still delivering 16 pounds of fresh fish a day. The eaglet found its way back to its cage when it got hungry enough, Parks Department employees said.

The remaining two eagles are four weeks younger, and will not be released from their cage until they are ready to fly, Benepe said. All four eagles have been equipped with tiny radio transmitters so that Parks Department employees can keep track of them after they leave the nest.

"Any day now they'll take to wing," said Benepe, with a trace of sadness. "We'll be watching 24 hours a day until they leave."

In the meantime, the eagles have a security detail to rival the mayor's. Their 20-foot treehouse is in a fenced-in area of the park that is patrolled 24 hours a day by guards and ringed by black motion-sensor posts connected to Parks Department walkie-talkies.

Their diet is equally impressive: a medley of salmon, whiting or carp, delivered fresh from Fairway. When they learn to fly, they will catch their own fish from the Hudson River, said Alexander R. Brash, the chief of the Parks Department's Urban Park Service.

They may also make a meal of the occasional pigeon or duck. But the city's cat and dog owners have nothing to fear, Brash said.

The eagles can be seen at the Nature Center, a former boat house in Inwood Hill Park, on a computer screen equipped with a toggle that allows viewers to see them from various angles. An adult bald eagle named Champion also will be brought to the Nature Center for visits in the coming weeks.

All the birds will be visible on the Web at www.nyc.gov/parks.

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