January 2015 is the Month of the Eagle! CWF is kicking off the new year by celebrating all things eagle. Follow us on social media and be sure to check your email (sign up for our list) for weekly stories on these amazing raptors from our own eagle biologist Larissa Smith. Larissa, a wildlife biologist who has been working for Conserve Wildlife Foundation since 2000, coordinates the New Jersey Bald Eagle Monitoring Project.
By: Larissa Smith, Wildlife Biologist and Volunteer Manager
During the Month of the Eagle, we have thanked the dedicated Bald Eagle Project volunteers, the backbone of the New Jersey Eagle Project.
Our volunteers get an incredible, intimate look into the lives of eagle pairs. Read their stories:
My best eagle memory comes from May 15, 1996 — my second visit to the first eagle nest I ever monitored. Eric Stiles had called a week earlier to tell me a nest had been found in Smithville and asked if I’d like to become involved in the project. I said “Of course!” and we arranged to get together the next day.
Back then there were only about a dozen nest sites known in the state and he wanted me to keep secret the locale and everything I observed. We drove his truck into the woods out of sight, then walked in through a white cedar forest, whispering as we got close. “It’s two young birds,” he told me, “in a small nest, probably a red-tailed nest they pirated.” Both had flecks of black and brown in the feathering on their heads, especially the male, whose head and tail showed lots of brown. “They may be too young to breed this year,” he explained. “It may be just a housekeeping year.”
“Brownie” flew off soon after we arrived; his mate sat in her pine tree for the full half-hour we watched, looking over-sized for her nest. “We need to keep disturbance to a minimum,” Eric told me as we left. “You shouldn’t come back here more than once a week.”One week later, when I returned to the hiding place in the cedars, I could see the female in the nest with my bins. I unfurled my tripod as quietly as I could, focused my scope — and my heart leaped: a fuzzy blue-gray chick with big black eyes was looking back at me! Soon after, his mother stood up and called into the sky. “Brownie” was coming back.
He landed in the nest, and after more screaming, let his mate take the fish he’d carried in. She carefully pulled it apart, feeding tiny bits to the chick and the larger pieces to herself. I had never seen eagles in action at a nest and was thoroughly enchanted – but there was another surprise to come. As the female turned in the nest ripping at the fish, something flashed. I focused the scope again and saw first a silver band gleaming on one leg and next a green band on the other. She was a New Jersey bird — hatched herself probably in 1991 or 1992, from one of the handful of nests in the state in those years. That was a sweet thrill!
That was the start of a long relationship between “Brownie,” “Greenie,” and me – and the eagles that have come along in the two decades since (the nest has moved two times over those years). I am very grateful to Eric Stiles for involving me originally and to Larissa Smith, Kathy Clark, Larry Niles and all the many hard-working, dedicated folks who have allowed me to participate in this wonderful project. Thanks largely to them, our state now has an order of magnitude more nests than we had in 1996: 150+! Wow!
– Jack Connor
We have a lot of good memories through the years of eagle volunteering. None that stand out more than just being able to talk to the many people that stumble upon you trying to figure out what all the gear is for and then seeing the surprise on their face when you tell them you are watching a bald eagle pair raise their young. Being able to pass on all the knowledge you learned from our many conversations with the biologist is very fulfilling. It is nice to see people walk away knowing how far our nation’s symbol has rebounded in our state. We have been able to help 16 eaglets fledge in our seven years of volunteering.
– Kevin & Karin Buynie
Last year was my first year monitoring an eagle’s nest. I guess the best experience was watching the pair behavior, moving sticks around on the nest and then seeing them mating, which was interrupted when an immature eagle came flying by. It was pretty cool.
– Karyn Cichocki
My best local sighting was in March of 2009 on Lake Barnegat in Forked River. From the road, as I was driving home, I saw an eagle attacking a cormorant and pulled over. After numerous attempts in the air and on the water, the eagle finally killed the cormorant. After watching for about 15 minute., I drove home to get my cameras (about a ten minute round trip), hoping the eagle would still be there when I returned. To my surprise when I returned a pair of birds was feeding on and fighting over the carcass.
– Paul Lenzo
My most awesome experience was participating in the banding of a young male bald eagle chick from the Supawna Meadows nest. How awesome to actually hold the chick while blood was drawn and measurements taken. I will never forget that great experience.
– Cheryl Leonard
“Busy day at Turkey Point: Upon arrival, one adult was in the nest housekeeping and three juveniles were in a snag about 100 feet to the right of the nest. We think these are most likely last year’s fledglings since the adult was not concerned they were so close. There was an adult that flew over the nest towards open water and out of sight. There were another four juveniles in the trees to the right of the meadow across the creek. Across the street from the crabbing business were six more juveniles perched in the trees.
Another adult flew to the nest and perched just above it. Then it jumped to a different branch in the nest tree. That’s when the adult that was housekeeping in the nest jumped up and bit the tail of the adult that just approached and was perched above the nest. Fluffy feathers floated down from that adult while he flew away towards where the three juveniles were perched and landed in a snag. The housekeeping adult that had just gone after tail feathers flew to the same snag as the adult she just “bit” and perched about 10 feet above him.
All of this caused the three juveniles that were perched there to fly off. So, she was telling him to get home and help while the three youngsters said ‘We’re out of here!'”
This is from several years ago at Turkey Point. We were observing a nest with three chicks in it that were about six weeks old. An adult was perched on a snag not far from the nest. We suddenly got a good view of a chick and noticed that he was much larger than the others. Then we realized this was not a chick but most likely a fledgling from last year. Mom was not too upset but once the fledgling started to eat the fish that was in the nest she flew over, landed in the nest, and chased the juvenile away. It seems she didn’t mind him visiting but he better go get his own meals. The chicks didn’t seem to mind the visitor but became much more active after he left!
– Donna & Heiki Poolake
I was astonished to see a pair of eagles take over an osprey nest in the rear of my home several years ago. This is what started me in the eagle program. The eagles did not stay long as the red-tailed hawks and osprey were too annoying. I then started to observe nest in Brick, New Jersey and let Kim Korth know whatever I saw. One day Kim called me and asked if I would like to go and be part of a eagle banding project. I was overjoyed to go. The banding took place in Brick, New Jersey on a private piece of property. I held an eagle for about 15 minutes and it was one of the best things I have ever experenced in my entire life. To actually hold an eagle. WOW!
– Richard Gauer
Is it the thrill of the first sighting of that fuzzy little head? Is it the beauty of that majestic bird soaring above with a blue background? Maybe it’s the anticipation of a first sighting of another species? Or the beauty of the area where you are doing your observation, the breath-taking sight of thousands of Snow Geese that perhaps land near-by? For us, it is all of these things and the knowledge we have gained observing these magnificent birds (and all the information Larissa has imparted to us, bless her). We feel it has been an honor to have taken part in the program and we hope to be able to continue for years to come.
– Clare Luisi & Anne Stiles
Two adult eagles were perched over the waterway near their nest. But this time instead of both being on a relatively high perch, one was perched on a branch just a few feet from the water. The water level was low and the area beneath the eagle was mucky. The eagle on the low branch was studying the mucky water below. Then it floated off the branch by just opening its wings and dropping down like a parachute into the muck. It flew up from the muck with a turtle in its beak! Then as it lifted hire into the air, it banked around past us and we watched it transfer the turtle from its beak to its talon in mid flight. We are so used to seeing eagles drop their talons into the water to pick up fish, that this eagle’s retrieval of a turtle with its beak was really surprising and wonderful to watch.
— Bonnie Hart & Ted Henning