New Jersey wildlife officials released a rehabilitated bald eagle at Winslow Wildlife Management Area in Camden County on Tuesday, but things did not go exactly as planned.
According to the script, the handlers would lift the lid on the bird’s cage, and it would soar majestically into the wind, making for the distant tree line. Members of the media hoping to capture the event were arrayed in a V shape on either side of the projected flight path. But the lid did not come away cleanly, the basket tilted, and the bird tumbled unceremoniously from the back of the cage. Mustering its dignity, it took to the air, threading its way between abandoned tripods and startled bystanders.
Not a pretty picture, but the release nonetheless represents a huge success for the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program. This was a Jersey bird, banded in 2008 as a nestling in Cumberland County. It was injured in a territorial dispute earlier this month with another male in Cape May.
That eagles can even have territorial disputes in New Jersey is cause for celebration. Twenty-five years ago, there was one nesting pair in the state, and that pair was not producing young because of pesticide poisoning. Careful stewardship by the Department of Environmental Protection and its non-profit partners, along with a nationwide ban on the use of the pesticide DDT, has turned that around, according to state biologist Kathy Clark. Today New Jersey has about 150 pairs, most of those in the south. The state has also had success re-establishing populations of ospreys and peregrine falcons.
Clark found this particular bird “talon-locked” with another male near Farmdale Road in West Cape May. They had been at it for at least two hours before she arrived.
“Not until I was right about to drop the towel on the birds did they break,” she said. The victor flew away. The other, designated C50, was taken to Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark, Del., where it was treated for puncture wounds and bruises. Within a week he was ready to fly again.
Clark watched as C50 circled ever higher above her. She had chosen this site because there were no eagles’ nests nearby, but within minutes it was joined by another eagle. It was a sub-adult, Clark confirmed, lacking the dramatic white head and tail. Also circling above were red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures. The skies are getting crowded.
New Jersey taxpayers who want to support the work of the Endangered and Nongame Species Program which works to protect the state’s endangered plants and animals, can check the designated box on their state income tax return.