Vehicle collisions are one of the leading causes of eagle deaths in New York State, accounting for more than 30 percent of known recorded mortality.
According to the bald eagle’s leg band number, it was 38 years old. USGS Banding Lab Longevity Records indicate that the eagle is the oldest banded bald eagle encountered in the nation to date – by five years.
The national environmental movement succeeded in getting the pesticide DDT banned in 1972 and prohibitions against taking or killing bald eagles included in the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. New York State initiated a Bald Eagle Restoration Project in 1976 to reestablish a breeding population.
At the time, the state hosted one remaining unproductive bald eagle nest on Hemlock Lake in Livingston County. As an attempt to reestablish a small breeding population in New York State, DEC released 23 fledgling bald eagles at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in 1976 – 1980. In 1980, the resident male of the state’s last native pair of eagles at Hemlock Lake was found shot to death near the nest.
According to banding records, the eagle found dead on June 2nd was a nestling originally brought from Lake Puposky in northern Minnesota as part of the Bald Eagle Restoration Program. One of only five young eagles raised and released at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in the second year of the program. Once it reached breeding age in 1981, it began nesting at Hemlock Lake, now part of Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. Banded as 03142, this eagle became a father to many eaglets fledged from that site.
Peter Nye, a retired DEC wildlife biologist who led New York’s Bald Eagle Restoration Program said, “When we banded 03142 on August 5, 1977 and had no idea how very special and significant this young bald eagle would become to our nascent bald eagle restoration program. Based on his recent recovery near this site, we have to assume he has been the resident male, breeding here for the past 34 years. That’s quite a stretch, and likely a record in itself. His longevity, 38 years, although ingloriously cut short by a motor vehicle, is also a National record for known life-span of a wild bald eagle.”
Over a 13-year period, 198 nestling bald eagles were collected from nests in other states, raised to independence with minimal human contact (a technique known as hacking), and released in New York. The hacked eagles flourished and many of them returned to New York to nest and breed. The hacking program ended in 1988 after meeting its goal of 10 nesting pairs of bald eagles in New York. Today, New York supports 350 pairs of nesting bald eagles.
Photos: Above, a bald eagle with a freshly caught fish (photo courtesy Yathin S Krishnappa); and below, New York’s first bald eagle hacking tower (courtesy DEC).