Bald Eagles Moving to Teaneck NJ

No. This is not an April Fool's Day story. With the revival of the Hackensack River comes the return of wildlife to the area. The Bergen Record reports:
Winged visitors amid the steel and concrete
Sunday, April 1, 2007


SOMETIMES we get lucky and see something extraordinary in the midst of ordinary life. As the sun rose recently on another ordinary weekday, I stumbled onto something extraordinary.

I saw a bald eagle.

In flight.

In Teaneck.

We can measure life's changes in many ways. Some of us monitor the ups and downs of gas prices, the stock market or home sales. Some of us look to sports seasons or a child's school calendar as benchmarks in the passage of time.

But what does the appearance of a bald eagle in a crowded suburb mean?

The nation's symbol of strength, with its classic white head and tail feathers and a black wingspan of up to eight feet, was nearly wiped out throughout America in the Sixties. The widespread use of pesticides, especially mosquito-killing DDT, caused bald eagles to lay thin-shelled eggs that were often crushed in the nest as female birds sat on them during incubation.

Also, too many American waterways had become polluted. Bald eagles simply couldn't find enough of their favorite food – fish.

By 1970, only one bald eagle nest remained in New Jersey. By 1974, the state Legislature passed a law listing the bald eagle as an endangered species. The federal government followed up with a national law four years later, declaring that America's symbol was in danger of becoming extinct in the lower 48 states.

But in the Eighties, things started to change. DDT had been banned in 1972. Polluted waterways, including the Hackensack River and many streams in the Meadowlands, became cleaner, and more fish spawned. Meanwhile, New Jersey environmental officials brought bald eagles from Canada and introduced them into New Jersey.

By 1988, New Jersey had its second eagle nest. Today, there are 60 nests, and almost 200 bald eagles have been spotted throughout the state, including six last year in the Palisades Interstate Park and four more near the Oradell Reservoir.


"The big picture is astonishing to us," said Kathleen Clark, principal biologist with New Jersey's Endangered Species Program and supervisor of the state's Bald Eagle Project.

But even Clark's meticulous surveys of "nesting pairs" and other eagles who just visit New Jersey for a few weeks or months don't tell the whole story.

This columnist is not a bird watcher -- unless you consider the Democrat and Republican vultures at the state Legislature to be a special species of wildlife. But experienced birders in North Jersey have been telling stories for months about the sudden appearance of a feisty squadron of bald eagles in central Bergen County – eagles that are comfortable amid the malls and highways and don't hide in thick forests.

Stiles Thomas, the founder of the Allendale nature preserve known as the Celery Farm and one of the area's most respected bird watchers, happened to be driving on the roller-coaster-like "flyover" exit ramp from Route 17 south to Route 4 east when he spotted a bald eagle in full flight heading northward.

"I never saw something like that before," said Thomas, who has been an active bird watcher since the Fifties.

22 sightings

Judith Cinquina, another well-regarded naturalist who teaches birding classes in Midland Park's continuing education program, said members of one bird-watching club have recorded 22 eagle sightings in Bergen County so far this year.

"Back in the Eighties, one bald eagle would have been exciting," Cinquina said. "It's a fantastic recovery."

Linn Pierson, a naturalist with the Palisades Interstate Park, spotted a bald eagle in Overpeck Park last year – an eagle obviously not bothered by the rush of traffic along nearby Route 95.

But a lone eagle does not surprise Pierson anymore. Several years ago, she counted 60 eagles in one day, all of them perched on ice floes in the Hudson River and heading toward the George Washington Bridge. On another morning, near Lake Tappan, Pierson found an astonishing 29 bald eagles, including eight in one tree.

Then, there are the sightings this year along what surely must be one of the most unlikely bald eagle habitats – the Hackensack River.

Michael Zahn of Hasbrouck Heights, who repairs Harley Davidson motorcycles but spends much of his free time photographing hawks and eagles, says he saw six bald eagles in the last few months along a stretch of the Hackensack River that runs from River Edge to Bogota. The landscape includes The Shops at Riverside, Route 4, the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, a car wash, several car dealerships, an indoor ice rink, a railroad bridge and a concrete factory.

"Breathtaking is the only way I could describe it," Zahn said.

He wasn't talking about the concrete factory, the car dealership, or Route 4. It was the eagles flying above all that.

"You're awestruck at how majestic they are," Zahn said.

The Record's Jim Wright, author of several environmental books as well as a new birding blog (find it at www.northjersey/owl), spotted two bald eagles along River Road in Teaneck – both of them juveniles, with mottled brown feathers that disappear when the eagles are full grown. They have black feathers and white heads. A few days later, Wright saw an adult bald eagle roosting in a tree in Hackensack's Foschini Park.

Moments later, the eagle swooped from the tree and flew south along the river and toward the concrete factory.

Late afternoon venture

Hearing such stories, I have set off to see an eagle – usually in the late afternoons. But after seeing nothing but blue sky and a few planes, I decided to look for them at dawn, near a spot in Teaneck where the Hackensack River bends.

As sunlight streamed through the trees, I drove my car slowly into a cul de sac off River Road. My eyes scanned the tree line across the river, near The Shops at Riverside.

Then, suddenly, in an oak tree only 30 feet away, I saw a flutter of black feathers.

The features expanded – at least six feet, perhaps seven feet – and a full-grown bald eagle slowly rose into the sky over the river, its wings slowly, gracefully swooping up and down to catch the wind.

I watched in silence for a few seconds as the eagle banked to the left and headed down the river – toward the mall and Route 4.

Then I smiled.

We live in a crowded world, full of predictable schedules and the omnipresent hum of traffic. Thankfully, there is still room for a bald eagle who just wants a little peace and quiet.

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