Bald Eagles in the Adirondacks
The bald eagle is not only our nation's most recognizable natural symbol, and the only eagle found exclusively in North America, it is also the endangered species act's most prominent success story, and a reminder of how important are the protection of our wildlife, critical habitat and natural resources generally.
Populations of breeding pairs of bald eagles in the lower forty-eight states crashed in the late sixties to just over 400 pairs, due to hunting, habitat destruction and most prominently, the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture, such as DDT. In a scary process, known as "biomagnification" , bald eagles, being at the top on their food chain, and feeding mainly on fish, occasional small rodents and carrion, in other words, wildlife which had themselves absorbed toxins in various forms ultimately from pesticide-laden vegetation or runoff from agricultural fields, suffer highly concentrated, elevated levels of these toxins, negatively impacting birth and mortality rates. Calcium deficiencies caused by the toxins resulted in the thinning of egg shells, which would collapse under the nesting female's weight, causing a nosedive in successful eaglet births.
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was the result of the attention called to these and related problems by wildlife lovers, falconers, hunters and others concerned about the fate of our native species. With the banning of the pesticides most harmful to wildlife in the United States, eagle numbers recovered, with the result that the bald eagle went from "endangered" to "threatened", and to finally "delisted" in 2007, as mating pairs reached over 11,000 in the lower forty-eight. Eagles were never as threatened in Alaska and British Columbia, and Alaska still has about 80% of the World's bald eagles. Many raptors joined in the recovery, due to the banning of these pesticides, most notably, the peregrine falcon.
Of course, the problem with pesticides is far from over, as most folks don't realize that the sale of these pesticides was banned only in the U.S., and they are still being used all over the rest of the world. DDT is said to help fight malaria in third world nations, and Swainson's Hawks, which nest on the Canadian-American prairies, remain on the endangered species list, because they winter on the Argentine Pampas, where Swainsons' die-offs from an inexpensive but lethal pesticide, monocrotophos, were still a problem in the late nineties.
There is also a downside to "delisting". as it opens formerly protected critical habitat to development and some of the very pressures that contributed to the decline of the eagle in the first place.
Bald eagles disappeared from the Adirondacks by the early sixties, but in 1981, Peter Nye, an eagle biologist and leader of the Endangered Species Unit of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, traveled to Alaska on a mission to repopulate the Adirondacks with bald eagles. Alaska has four times as many eagles as the rest of the country, so Nye's mission, in a process known as "hacking", was to take wild eaglets mature enough to care for themselves and just about ready to fly, transport them to New York, and release them in a remote area, unvisited by people, in the hopes that the eagles would begin breeding, nesting and repopulating New York.
A logical place to release them was Follensby Pond, a remote wilderness area of over 14,000 acres, once home to bald eagles, and the site of a famous get together in 1858 known as the "Philosophers Camp", which was organized by painter William James Stillman, and included poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell and paleontologist, geologist and all around naturalist, Louis Agassiz.
The owners of the Follensby Wilderness, John and Bird McCormick, sold the property to the Nature Conservancy in 2008, on the condition that the Nature Conservancy work with New York State to ensure that the Wilderness remains wild, and inaccessible to the public, at least for the foreseeable future. It is here that Nye hacked the eagles, with the result that there are now twelve nesting pairs of eagles in the Adirondacks, and over 130 pairs in New York State. Way to go, Pete!
|The number one killer of Bald Eagles today is the use of lead bullets. Gut piles left behind by hunters contain lead shards, the remains of lead bullets which tend to shatter and scatter upon impact. Bald eagles, along with many other less charismatic scavengers, ingest the lead, which often proves toxic. Please ask your hunter friends to switch to non-toxic copper bullets! Predictably, the NRA is opposed to any restrictions on the use of lead ammunition, our National Symbol be damned. For more information, click on this box.|
Ben Franklin on the Bald Eagle as our National Symbol
Ben Franklin, the statesman, philosopher, naturalist, inventor
and all around Renaissance Man, was not all that thrilled with the
choice of the Bald Eagle as our national symbol, and seemed to prefer
the wild turkey as a utilitarian symbol, which is uniquely American,
and often spelled the difference between our wilderness forefathers
eating or starving. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin said, in
"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .
"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not
known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the
Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true
original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain
& silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a
Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm
Yard with a red Coat on."
Of course, these days we often call politicians "turkeys", but
I believe we have a different meaning in mind.
So....was Ben correct?
Well, yes and no. Bald eagles are opportunistic predators, and we have seen them steal fish from our local ospreys, but that is fairly standard behaviour for predators. Grizzlys will try to steal kills from wolves, but if there are more than two wolves, they will tease and harass the grizzly, until it gives up and leaves. Ravens will lead wolves to a winter killed-moose, but when the wolves are finished gorging, and are just lying around, the ravens will cover the carcass, but instead of eating, will cleverly steal and cache chunks of meat, hiding the cache from the wolves and other ravens, to assure a larger take, than if they simply stayed at the carcass and ate. Lions occasionally lose a kill to hyenas, so the rule seems to be, if you can accomplish it without too much risk, sometimes by sheer force of numbers or overwhelming size or strength disparity, it's often easier to steal someone else's prey than to secure your own, particularly when prey is scarce, and your stomach is complaining.
|Gray Fox||Arctic Fox
|Saw Whet Owl||Barn
|Broad Winged Hawk||Swainsons Hawk||Rough
Ralph Waldo Emerson
DEDICATED TO MY FELLOW TRAVELLERS IN AUGUST, 1858
Wise and polite,--and if I drew
We crossed Champlain to Keeseville with our friends,
Next morn, we swept with oars the Saranac,
Northward the length of Follansbee we rowed,
The wood was sovran with centennial trees,--
'Welcome!' the wood-god murmured through the leaves,--
Ten scholars, wonted to lie warm and soft
In Adirondac lakes
Look to yourselves, ye polished gentlemen!
Ask you, how went the hours?
Our heroes tried their rifles at a mark,
Two Doctors in the camp
Lords of this realm,
Hard fare, hard bed and comic misery,--
Our foaming ale we drank from hunters' pans,
Nor doubt but visitings of graver thought
And presently the sky is changed; O world!
With a vermilion pencil mark the day
A spasm throbbing through the pedestals
We flee away from cities, but we bring
The holidays were fruitful, but must end;
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge & Rehabilitation Center
Steve & Wendy Hall
PO Box 555, 977 Springfield Road, Wilmington, NY 12997
Toll Free: 855-Wolf-Man (855-965-3626)
Cell Phones: 914-715-7620 or 914-772-5983
Office Phone: 518-946-2428
Email us: info@AdirondackWildlife.org