Climate-Threatened Birds

The New Normal: Bald Eagles in the Big City

After cozying up in the spring, Bald Eagles settle into New York City for another winter.

Each morning, The New York Times offers a roundup of local news in their New York Today section—and yesterday, the big news in the city was that a Bald Eagle was spotted in Central Park.

“When one observant reader regaled us over the weekend with the story of a Bald Eagle spotting in Central Park, we must admit we were skeptical,” Noah Remnick, a metro reporter for The Times, wrote.

But Bald Eagles in New York City aren’t actually that surprising. According to Urban Park Rangers Director Sarah Aucoin they’re almost routine this time of year. “It’s exciting,” Aucoin said, “but it’s not uncommon.” In fact, last spring Audubon reported that for the first time in years, the raptors were so cozy in the big city that a pair was actually nesting on the south shore of Staten Island—a big step for a bird that had just a single breeding pair in the entire state back in 1960.

After decades of habitat loss, hunting, and DDT use crippled the population, the Bald Eagle became one of the first animals on the endangered species list in the 1970s. So the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation stepped in: Over the course of four years, caretakers from the NYSDEC played featherless surrogates to help the birds rebound. While they didn’t have to don wingsuits or sit on eggs, the caretakers did have to stealthily feed 23 eaglets without corrupting the birds’ independence. The eaglets were housed in a two-story hacking tower—a contraption that allows caretakers to feed and observe the baby birds without being seen. Read all about that program and its success here

While New York City’s lone eagle nest didn’t prove fruitful this year, today there are more than 173 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles across the state, thanks to the breeding program. And in the winter months, these iconic birds become city regulars as they migrate south from Canada and Alaska. “Only in New York can you see the Statue of Liberty and a Bald Eagle in the same day,” Aucoin quipped to The Times. “It’s like America is just slapping you in the face. Enjoy it.”

As the cool weather sets in and the Hudson River ices over, look for them along the riverbanks or floating atop ice sheets fishing for an early morning breakfast. While they’re not likely to displace the city’s regal mascot bird—the pigeon—anytime soon, they may just be one of the best parts of NYC winter. 

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