In recent months, a new occurrence has been becoming more and more frequent in the Lakewood area: bald eagle sightings.
Yes, this majestic bird, the mascot of the United States of America, has moved into town. LNN spoke with a few people who have spotted these stunning raptors firsthand.
“I was jogging down South Lake Drive, watching a few kids feeding a flock of hungry geese near the lake,” says Yossi Spitzer, a regular runner on this path. “Then, out of nowhere, It happened: a large bald eagle swooped down from the sky, snatched a fish from the lake, and disappeared into the trees. It was massive. It’s wingspan was larger than the kids by the lake.”
Here is another account, from Meir Beigeleisen, who was visiting from Montreal: “I was walking down Ninth Street, right across Georgian Court University, when I noticed two large creatures on a front lawn. When I got closer, I realized what I was seeing: two huge bald eagles, just chilling on the grass.”
The question really is, where are they coming from?
Lately, there have been rumors circulating around town that the state of New Jersey has intentionally imported a number of bald eagle families to Lakewood. It has been claimed that they were brought here for a variety of reasons: because Jews don’t hunt all that much, or because there’s less littering here than in other parts of the state (which isn’t necessarily true!), and so on. To set the record straight, here’s really what happened:
Bald eagles have actually lived in New Jersey for centuries. However, during the 1960s and 70s, the bald eagle population began to dwindle, until the point that they were added to the endangered species list. This made hunting the eagles a felony. If you kill a bald eagle, until today, you can get slapped with a $250,000 fine.
These magnificent birds—who once numbered in the thousands, inhabiting many of the states lining the Northern Border of the United States and well into Canada—were slowly vanishing. Top American zoologists and climate experts spent much of the 1970s trying to discover the cause for this sudden decline in the bald eagle population.
They concluded that the largest factor responsible for this phenomenon was the widespread use of the pesticide DDT from the 1950s until the early 1970s. Scientists discovered that this pesticide was causing a thinning of the eagles’ eggshells. These eggs would be waiting in the nests for the adult eagles to incubate them, but then they would crack under the birds’ own weight.
The number of nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state of New Jersey declined to only one by 1970. It remained at one into the early 1980s. However, the use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1972. This caused the eagle population to start growing in most of their native states. But in New Jersey, things weren’t getting much better. Apparently, the DDT ban was being treated with the proper severity by New Jersey citizens.
In 1982, after the Bear Swamp eagle nest, New Jersey’s only active bald eagle nest since 1970, failed to produce young for at least six consecutive years, biologists removed eggs from the nest. The eggs were then incubated in a lab under chickens. Once hatched, the chicks were returned to the nest at 10 days old, and were quickly cared for by the adults. Fostering continued until 1989 when a new female nested and was able to hatch her own eggs.
Increasing the production from a single nest, however, was not enough to boost the state’s population in a reasonable amount of time. Mortality rates are as high as 80% in young eagles, and they do not reproduce until four or five years of age. State biologists instituted a hacking project in 1983 that resulted in the release of 60 young eagles (mostly from Canada) in New Jersey over an eight-year period. (This, by the way, was probably the source of the rumors about them having been imported directly to Lakewood.) Because of these efforts, a second bald eagle nest was identified in 1988. These eagles have contributed to the increase in nesting pairs since 1990.
So it seems that although there is no documented evidence proving that bald eagles were imported directly to Lakewood, they definitely were brought back to the state of New Jersey in an effort to rebuild their population. The fact that we are seeing them more frequently now is just a result of the state’s conservation efforts; the population is growing, and it seems like some of these raptors chose to spread their horizons and settle in the Lakewood area.
So, do Lakewooders have to worry about a bald eagle attacking one of their children? Bald eagles have been known to attack humans, but history has shown us that the injuries inflicted are hardly lethal. During mating seasons, bald eagles become much more territorial. As with any other bird of prey, it is best to keep a safe distance from a bald eagle and to respect the bird’s space.
Bald eagles are easy to recognize. These giant raptors are mostly covered by dark brown, often black plumage, besides for their head and tail feathers, which are snow white. They can stand up to three feet tall, and have a wingspan anywhere from five to eight feet long. When they glide through the sky, they seem like the true king of the birds, drifting seamlessly through the clouds, as though they are bound neither to time nor space. Mah Rabu Ma’asecha Hashem.