Since 1782, the Bald Eagle has been the national bird – a symbol of courage and freedom. It was placed on the Great Seal of the United States to stand for strength, power, and peace. Even before European settlers arrived, the Bald Eagle was regarded as “the chief of birds” by Native Americans. And yet, although it holds such a special place in our nation’s heart, many of us remember a time when we almost lost this amazing animal forever.
As recently as 1976, there was only one active Bald Eagle nest remaining in New Jersey. The use of the infamous pesticide DDT stopped in 1972, but its killer repercussions were still being felt in the natural world. Once introduced to the birds’ systems, the chemical weakened their eggshells to the point where incubation by the parent birds would crush the soft eggs.
Luckily, a handful of dedicated biologists, who were working to protect endangered species in NJ, were able to locate that last remaining nest in NJ, in an area known as Bear Swamp. From that nest, they rescued the eggs, incubated them in a controlled environment, and returned the healthy chicks to the tree, where their parents continued to care for them as they grew. The success of this venture – along with positive results from similar eagle recovery programs in other states – kicked off the beginning of probably the greatest comeback story in endangered species history.
Photo of Bear Swamp chicks from Duke Farms' Bald Eagle free online e-book (linked below)
But still a larger problem remained. The single last Bald Eagle nest in New Jersey was in danger of being destroyed by the sand mining company who owned the land where the tree stood. The company went to court with the state when it moved to buy the land in the name of conservation. Michael Catania, then a staff attorney for the DEP, described the scene in court that day in this excerpt from Duke Farms' Bald Eagle free online e-book:
“‘The deputy attorney general representing DEP asked if he could approach the bench, and he gave the judge pictures of us holding baby bald eagles when they were put back in the nest,” recalls Michael Catania… “The judge looks at the photos of the baby eagles and says, ‘Oh my God, they’re incredibly cute!’ Then he looks at the mining company’s lawyer and says, ‘So let me get this straight. Your argument is that permanently protecting the symbol of our nation’s liberty found in New Jersey is not a public purpose?’ “The judge slams the gavel down and says, ‘Not in my court. Case dismissed.’”
Rigorous protection of nesting sites and Bald Eagle territories, along with the breeding programs in place throughout the state, proved to flip the script for the fate of our precious Bald Eagles. Fast forward to today: the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Fish and Wildlife and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey identified 250 active nests in New Jersey in 2022! In a 2020 report, the Bald Eagle population in the United States reached an estimated 316,700 individual eagles. The Bald Eagle has been removed from the Endangered Species list. It’s now becoming a common occurrence to see one soaring over a nearby river or lake in search of its next meal.
In 2008, Duke Farms, a nature preserve in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, installed a camera above a Bald Eagle nest that they had discovered on their property. It was the perfect way to observe and learn about this majestic creature without intruding on its space. Not only were they able to observe the eagles and gain invaluable information about their behaviors, they took it one step further and made it so they could share this information with the rest of the world. The camera live streams to YouTube 24/7 so you can check in on the nesting pair and their eaglets any time. It’s one of my favorite things to do this time of year!
As of today, the pair is currently incubating 2 eggs. The first was laid January 20 and the second on January 23. Bald Eagles commonly lay 1-3 eggs, and the incubation period typically lasts about 35 days. The male and female take turns warming the eggs while the other flies off to find food. Once hatched, they’ll stay in the nest for 10-12 weeks until they’re strong enough to fly off on their own. I just love watching them grow from clumsy, grey fluff balls to strong, majestic young adults.
Use this link to the Duke Farms Eagle Cam to follow along at home or in your classroom:
For more information on Bald Eagles and the story of the Duke Farms Eagle Cam, please read this amazing e-book by Jim Wright for Duke Farms and Conserve Wildlife Foundation: