The dramatic recovery of the American bald eagle has reached a milestone in New Jersey, with more than 100 pairs now nesting in the Garden State, according to a newly released analysis of the species’ population.
The survey by the DEP’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program counted 102 pairs of actively nesting eagles, plus 11 more pairs in the process of establishing nesting territories. The survey documented a record 22 new nests, of which 16 are in southern New Jersey, four in northern New Jersey and two in central New Jersey.
“The recovery of the bald eagle from one nesting pair in an isolated swamp in southern New Jersey in the early 1980s to more than 100 pairs today is a truly remarkable success story that is a testament to the excellent work that has been done to manage the species, and to how far we’ve come as a state in restoring and protecting our environment,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said.
The species’ recovery from the edge of extirpation is directly related to a ban on the use of DDT, a once widely-used pesticide that caused egg failure, as well as decades of restoration and management efforts by the DEP, which released 60 eaglets from Canada into New Jersey in the 1980s and early 1990s to rebuild the population.
Each January, the Endangered and Nongame Species Program conducts a mid-winter survey as part of a nationwide effort to track population trends. The survey coincides with the time of year when eagles are preparing nests for the breeding season.
Statewide, 75 percent of the nests successfully produced offspring. A total of 119 eagle chicks were hatched, for a success rate of 1.25 per active nest.
The overall number of eagles counted during the mid-winter survey, including nesting eagles and those not nesting, stood at 238. This was 28 percent lower than the record 333 observed in 2010, likely due to snow and high winds impairing the visibility of observers.
Eagles primarily depend on fish for survival. With its broad expanses of undisturbed coastal wetlands, the Delaware Bay region of Cumberland and Salem counties remains the state’s stronghold, with 60 percent of bald eagle nests.
But eagles are being found in many more places. Eighteen of New Jersey’s 21 counties now have at least one active nest.
“In addition to the continued increase in the overall numbers of eagles, what’s really exciting is that they are being found all across the state in all types of habitats, including along small lakes and reservoirs in northern New Jersey,” said Kathy Clark, an Endangered and Nongame Species Program biologist who has worked on the recovery of the eagle since the program’s early days.
This year, the Endangered and Nongame Species Program fitted a pair of eagle chicks that hatched at the Merrill Creek Reservoir in central Warren County with solar-powered transmitters that allow tracking of the birds’ movement patterns by satellites.
The public can follow the movements of the two eaglets on the reservoir’s website at www.merrillcreek.org. The Conserve Wildlife Foundation maintains a blog about these and the rest of New Jersey’s eagles at www.ConserveWildlifeNJ.org.
“The tremendous results of 2011 show that species declines can, with hard work and dedication, be reversed,” said Margaret O’Gorman, Executive Director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. “Continued investment in stewardship of wildlife is essential to continuing the recovery of eagles and other wildlife in New Jersey.”
The Bald Eagle Research and Management Project is made possible by those who donate a portion of their New Jersey state income tax refund to wildlife conservation and those who purchase Conserve Wildlife license plates for their cars. The project is also supported by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and federal grants.
“The bald eagle, along with scores of other endangered and rare wildlife species, have a much brighter future in our state due to the work made possible by funds from the tax check-off and the Conserve Wildlife license plate program,” said DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Chanda. “It’s not too soon to begin thinking about donating a portion of your refund to this worthy and successful effort.”
The bald eagle remains listed as an endangered species in New Jersey. The federal government removed the bald eagle from its endangered species list in 2007. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is overseeing a 20-year recovery monitoring period.
The 2011 bald eagle project report, which includes a map and listing of the distribution of nesting eagles in New Jersey, can be found at http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/ensp/raptor_info.htm.