The Eagles are flying. But while the terrestrial football Eagles soar once a decade or so, the bald eagles they’re named after have had great years every year this century in South Jersey.
The local triumph of this top avian predator was confirmed anew in the 2017 New Jersey Bald Eagle Project report, which came out right about the time Carson Wentz was suffering a torn knee ligament and being confined to the roost for the rest of the season.
Confirmed and monitored eagle nests in New Jersey increased to 178 this year from 172 last year, according to the joint report by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.
The number of eagles that hatched and flew away from those nests dropped a bit — from 216 to 190 — but that’s OK.
That probably just means bald eagles have been so successful in New Jersey that they’re getting competitive, occasionally fighting over territories with the best nest sites and food availability. Competition keeps eagles strong and awesome.
Just three of the 17 eagles found dead this year seemed to have met their fate at the talons and sharp beak of another eagle. Their most common mortal threat was electrocution and injuries from flying into wires. A division biologist who co-authored the report said Atlantic City Electric has made changes to reduce the threat where such fatalities have occurred. We’re glad that when the East Coast deploys its welcome wind energy farms, they’ll be offshore where they won’t decimate eagles as they’ve done in the West.
South Jersey has led this restoration of the bird so majestic it’s the fitting symbol of the United States of America.
In 1982, the state sent a brave biologist up an 80-foot tree to New Jersey’s last nesting pair of eagles in Bear Swamp, Cumberland County. He took the eagles’ egg — left frail by the DDT contamination that had wiped out the rest of New Jersey’s native eagle population — and brought it back for careful incubation and then replacement of the chick in the nest. It became the state’s first fledgling bald eagle in many years.
That practice continued for several years and was accompanied by the release through hacking towers around the state of young eagles from healthy populations in the far north.
By 2000, the new eagles were mature and numerous enough to take over the work of population growth, nesting and breeding on their own. And when they did, they mainly chose South Jersey as the best place to live in the state.
Active bald eagle nests are scattered pretty evenly around nearly all of New Jersey, spaced apart about 10 to 20 miles. But along the South Jersey shore of Delaware Bay from Cape May through Gloucester County, the nests are concentrated, with clusters of up to six within 3 miles of each other.
“The Delaware Bay region remained the state’s eagle stronghold, with roughly half the nests located in Cumberland and Salem counties and the bayside of Cape May County,” the report says.
Young eagles ready to pair bond and nest — typically after spending a few years traveling from northern Canada down to Maryland — apparently have fond memories of South Jersey and its great eagle habitat.
This region has broad marshes laced with tidal rivers and inlets, which offer lots of fish and waterfowl for the eagles to eat. And there are plenty of ideal waterfront home locations — tall trees with open views onto these great expanses of eagle-friendly territory.
Nature blessed South Jersey with this habitat and now again has filled it with the eagles that belong in it. But the people and officials of the region and the state and federal governments deserve credit, too, for preserving so much eagle habitat, whose destruction elsewhere continues to be the greatest threat to the species.
We agree with the eagles that the South Jersey shore is a great place to live. We hope it remains so, as well as a great place to visit.