Conserve Wildlife Blog

A Tribute to Elmer Clegg, Eagle Project Volunteer

June 8th, 2016

Loyal Eagle Project Volunteer Contributes to Conservation for over Two Decades

by Dr. Larry Niles, LJ Niles Associates LLC

Dr. Erica Miller and Elmer Clegg.

Dr. Erica Miller and Elmer Clegg.

In the early days of the Bald Eagle project, when we really didn’t know whether the species could be restored back to New Jersey, there were a few people that offered their help without reservation to help the birds. Elmer Clegg and his wife Bunny were two and among the most dedicated. Elmer died May 20th at 79 years old. He was a loyal eagle volunteer for more than two decades.


To understand Elmer and Bunny’s contribution its important to remember the circumstances in which the eagles found themselves. The historic population of eagles, about 22 in 1950 but probably much higher in history, had been whittled down to just one unproductive pair by 1981. Biologists at the newly formed Endangered Species Program, including me, worked hard to restore the Delaware Bayshore population with new projects, like hacking young birds into the wild. By the early 2000’s, we had new nests but in places that had not known eagles for decades. In many places they were unwelcome because they thwarted sprawl development or short sighted resource use. They had to be defended, but then we couldn’t afford staff.

Dr. Erica Miller and Elmer and Bunny Clegg.

Dr. Erica Miller and Elmer and Bunny Clegg.

Into that breach stood Elmer and Bunny and others like them, John and Sheryl Healy and Red and Mary Jane Horner. They were stalwart defenders of wildlife that brooked no insult to the birds by watching the nest throughout the nesting period until the young birds fledged. It was rewarding but difficult work trying to persuade farmers, businessmen, irate suburbanites and many others that the eagles deserved to be where they were. A few times our conservation officers had to step in, or DEP had to drop the regulatory hammer, but mostly it was the calm persuasion of people, like Elmer, who’s true love for these birds spoke convincingly to those against the bird.


Elmer helped me understand that the future of wildlife doesn’t lie in the agencies or their staff, but in the hearts of people who care for wildlife. People like Elmer deserve to return to this earth as the species they loved so much.


Dr. Larry Niles has led conservation efforts for over 30 years.

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2 Responses to “A Tribute to Elmer Clegg, Eagle Project Volunteer”

  1. Ben says:

    My sincere condolences to the entire Clegg family. Elmer was one of the most dedicated volunteers I have ever met in New Jersey. He monitored nests in areas where no one else would. He never thought twice about wading through dense thickets of poison ivy or green brier to install a predator guard on a nest tree. If there was ever an issue, like an eaglet falling from a nest, he was there to notify officials and take action to ensure its survival. There is no doubt that he has left behind a lasting legacy for both us and bald eagles who he deeply admired. Rest in Peace, Elmer. May your spirit soar above us all on the wings of the eagles you protected and watched grow.

    –Ben Wurst

  2. Red & Mary Jane Horner says:

    Larry’s tribute is so fitting and so true as are Ben’s comments. There could not be a more dedicated volunteer than Elmer, he put his heart and soul into protecting our eagles. It was his passion. We shared so much, working in the field, comparing notes and, in our spare time, traveling to find more eagles. The program will of course go on but, for us it can never be the same without Elmer. We will miss him so very much, not just as a fellow volunteer but as a treasured dear friend. We all seem to be of one mind, that Elmer is watching us from above soaring on enormous wings of “the big bird”.

    Red and Mary Jane