We were on Rt 47 southbound to attend an 11:00 am meeting in Cape May. The car consisted of wife Linda and myself. “Bald Eagle,” she announced. Following the line of her sight, I immediately saw the adult perched on the tree-line. Two hours later on our return trip we spotted two more, both adults. What made these eagle encounters notable is precisely because they are not. Eagles in New Jersey in AD 2019 are a common occurrence.
Forty years ago, this was hardly the case. In the 1970s, there was precisely one breeding pair of Bald Eagle in the state, now there are approximately 200. Yes the Bald Eagle has recovered from its population decline and the preponderance of adults in the population attests to it. In any healthy population, there are a number of free-floating adults. Spare birds who can step in, in the event of the death of a paired adult.
Now, in February, fully half of the adult eagles in the state are incubating eggs. So the birds Linda and I were seeing were adult males or free-floating birds or adults from farther north who had yet to return to breed. Yet and still, three Bald Eagles on a morning drive seems an auspicious number, particularly since we were not expressly looking for birds.
Thinking back, it seems that last fall, most of the eagles sighted from the Cape May hawkwatch were also adults.
Thinking even farther back I recall the very first adult bird spotted there. It was a bird, local eagle mystic Al Nicholson had only dreamed of seeing. The look of rapture on his face spoke volumes. Back in the early days of the count, all the Bald Eagles we spotted were immature, mostly juveniles, indicative of a recovering population. So New Jersey resident, there is good news on the Environmental front, too.
The Bald Eagle is back. Good for you for not losing hope.
NJ Audubon Birding Ambassador
Author Birds of Prey and coauthor Hawks in Flight
Bald Eagle Photo: Chris Neff