lived, and its operations increasingly
encroached on the nest. The middle of
nowhere turned out to be somewhere.
The state Department of Environmental Protection realized it had to
buy the land. After two years of futile
negotiations, the state used its power of
eminent domain to acquire 1,500 acres
to protect the nest.
The mining company went to court
to fight the move, telling the judge that
protecting a nest did not serve a valid
“The deputy attorney general
representing DEP asked if he could approach the bench, and he gave the judge
pictures of us holding baby bald eagles
when they were put back in the nest,”
recalls Michael Catania, then in-house
counsel for the DEP and now executive
director of Duke Farms in Hillsborough.
“The judge looks at the photos of
the baby eagles and says, ‘Oh my God,
they’re incredibly cute!’ Then he looks
at the mining company’s lawyer and
says, ‘So let me get this straight. Your ar-
gument is that permanently protecting
the symbol of our nation’s liberty found
in New Jersey is not a public purpose?’
“The judge slams the gavel down and
says, ‘Not in my court. Case dismissed.’”
TO IMPROVE THE EAGLES’ ODDS for
recovery, New Jersey began importing eaglets from Canada, where DDT
had not wrought as much damage.
Researchers took one chick from nests
with three eaglets in Nova Scotia and
Manitoba and flew them to the Garden
State, where they released the juveniles
into their new habitat in
hopes they would take
to man-made nests and
repopulate the area—a
process called hacking.
“Each of those was
an important step,”
says Clark. “We had to
save Bear Swamp from
becoming a sand mine,
and we had to bring in
young eagles to get the
New Jersey population
The first hack site was
at the Glades near Tur-
key Point, a remote spot
three miles from Bear
Swamp. (A signpost pro-
claimed, “Turkey Point.
Population: 8.”) The hack site consisted
of a two-level structure built on telephone poles on the edge of a field next to
wetlands—a perfect place to raise eaglets.
“The chicks were brought here when
they were about six weeks old and
placed in the tower, two birds per cage,”
says Niles. “They were fed through
doors so they weren’t directly fed by
humans, and then eventually released.”
The staff lived in trailers on-site,
using a porta-potty, solar-heated
showers, and bottled drinking water
because the groundwater gave off a
strong sulfuric smell.
For company, they mostly had insects.
“That place had every biting bug you
could imagine,” recalls Paturzo. “Tiny
no-see-ums, mosquitoes, deer flies,
greenheads, ticks, chiggers. All in great
For Niles, participating in the hacking
was a life changer: “To have such an
intimate relationship with the eagles
had a great effect on me as a biologist
because you could see how much indi-
vidual variations there were in birds.”
Already, the eagle population had
started to rebound. Bear Swamp and the
hacking project produced more than
60 young who, several years later, built
nests of their own. By the mid-1990s,
biologists were confident they had laid
the groundwork for bald eagle recovery
in New Jersey.
“First of all, we established a system
that protects the habitat and the nests,”
says Niles. “Our rigorous defense of the
nests laid down the framework for pro-
tection at the key stages—when they are
nesting and incubating, and when the
chicks are first fledged and vulnerable.
That’s a big deal.
“But,” he adds, “we also started an
effort where volunteers monitored the
nest. That’s a big part of why the pro-
gram is successful. Once people adopt
a nest, they become religious about it.
When things went wrong, we knew
about it right away.”
As for the rebuilt Bear Swamp nest,
little has changed.
“Bear Swamp is still one of our tough-est nest sites to access,” says Clark. “It
was and is a wild place.”
TODAY, NEW JERSEY HAS more than
160 eagle nests in 20 of its 21 counties.
The raptors can produce more than 200
chicks a year.
“The bald eagle’s future in New
Jersey is bright,” says ENSP chief Dave
Jenkins. “We have to keep our eye on
things like water quality and contaminants, and the impacts that long-term
changes in our climate might have
on food abundance, but I don’t see
anything on the horizon that’s going to
interfere with their continued recovery.”
(The eagles’ diet is varied, but they feed
mostly on fish.)
Jenkins predicts the bald eagle
population will eventually level off as
the birds compete for territory. In the
meantime, these raptors, which were
thought to value solitude, have taken to
nesting in heavily populated areas. That
suggests that humans could once again
disturb the eagles’ feeding and nesting.
“At the same time, eagles in urban/sub-
urban areas are more likely to learn to
tolerate a greater deal of disturbance,”
Jenkins says. “We have to rethink our
understanding of eagles’ interactions
It’s a problem no one dreamed of 40
“When we started, our goal was 10
nests,” Frier-Murza recalls. “We truly
thought that [remote areas were] the
only suitable habitat we would be able
to provide them with. But they’ve
seemed to adapt to being around people.
Our New Jersey eagles have adopted
our New Jersey lifestyle.” ■
Jim Wright writes The Bird Watcher column for the Record. He is the author of a
new e-book about the nesting bald eagles at
CANADIAN IMPORTS To accelerate the bald eagle’s comeback,
chicks were flown in. Larry Niles, left, inspects an arrival at JFK.